The 2008 global economic crisis has been linked to a sharp rise in deaths from cancer, a new study reports.
Unemployment and cuts in public health-care spending were associated with more than 260,000 additional cancer deaths by 2010. Most of those deaths — 160,000 — were in the European Union, the researchers said.
The study included 70 countries and a total of more than 2 billion people, according to the report published online May 25 in The Lancet.
“Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial,” lead author Dr. Mahiben Maruthappu, of Imperial College London, said in a journal news release.
“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,” he explained.
Although the study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect, the researchers noted that public health-care spending was strongly linked to cancer deaths. This suggests that health-care cuts could cost lives, Maruthappu said.
If health-care cuts are necessary, they need to be matched by efficiency improvements that keep care at similar levels, he suggested.
Study co-author Rifat Atun, from Harvard University, explained that “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.”
In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Graham Colditz of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Dr. Karen Emmons of Kaiser Foundation Research Institute in Oakland, Calif., wrote that the findings “add to the evidence that the implementation of universal health coverage would further reduce the toll of cancer by making it possible to implement evidence-based treatments and prevention strategies that are already in hand.”
Colditz and Emmons added: “Although in many countries universal health-care coverage is seen as an important societal investment, so far this has not been the case in the U.S. The country might find the promise of improving treatments difficult to achieve without first providing coverage to those affected by cancer.”
Universal cancer care would provide a great return on investment, the editorial authors said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cancer.