Is the Global Recession Responsible for at Least 260,000 Additional Cancer Deaths?

CancerResearchers from Imperial College London speculate that of the more than a quarter million additional cancer deaths which occurred after the global recession began in 2008, many could have been directly related to unemployment or public health care cuts. More specifically, researchers say that the increase of cancer deaths could have been a result of people losing health insurance, and thus access to affordable—and very necessary—treatments.

The study examined more than 2.1 billion people across 79 countries to reveal more than 263,000 additional cancer deaths between 2008 and 2010, with some estimates reaching upwards of 500,000 more cancer deaths. Additionally, researchers looked as far back as 1990—at data collected by the World Bank and the World Health Organization—specifically on breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, and on colorectal cancers, pancreatic cancers, and lung cancers in both men and women to determine if there is a relationship between such cancers and unemployment, public health spending, and universal health care availability.

Looking more closely at the data, though, it appears that a 1 percent increase in unemployment could be linked to at least 0.37 additional deaths per 100,000 people, from one of five major types of cancer; a 1 percent decrease in GDP public healthcare spending could be linked to another 0.0053 cancer deaths per 100,000 people.

“Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial,” comments Dr. Mahiben Maruthappu, who is a researcher at Imperial College London. “We found that increased unemployment was associated with increased cancer mortality, but that universal health coverage protected against these effects. This was especially the case for treatable cancers including breast, prostate and colorectal cancer.”

The same researchers, then, also remark that this study might suggest universal health care could curb these trends. Indeed, improving efficient and effective public health could provide the needed assistance, particularly when spending is cut. But, of course, the researchers suggest that universal coverage is more attractive as a means to guarantee access to care, independent of employment or of economic status.

Harvard University professor Dr. Rifat Atun attests, “In countries without universal health coverage, access to health care can often be provided via an employment package. Without employment, patients may be diagnosed late, and face poor or delayed treatment.”

The results of this study have been published in the medical journal The Lancet.