A new study found that wealthy countries experienced an increase in cancer deaths during the global economic crisis.
There were about 260,000 excess deaths between 2008 and 2010.
The analysis found evidence that access to medical care might explain the rise. Increases in the unemployment rate were associated with additional cancer deaths except in countries with universal health care, where access to health care coverage would not have depended on employment.
The associations between unemployment increases and mortality were statistically significant for treatable cancers, which include but are limited to breast and prostate cancer. However, types of pancreatic cancer deemed untreatable because survival rates are low were not statistically significant.
The study demonstrates that universal health care should be implemented and prioritized. It can protect populations from potentially unnecessary cancer deaths.
Researchers assert that it is important to invest in health care systems, otherwise the consequences could be fatal.
The study doesn’t prove that unemployment or cutbacks in heath spending were the trigger for the increase in cancer deaths. However, to put the increase in fatalities in perspective, there were about 9 million cancer deaths in developed countries over that time frame which constitutes an increase of about 3%.
The study analyzed cancer mortality data from more than 70 countries. The study found that a 1% rise in unemployment was associated with .37 additional cancer deaths per 100,000 people.
Research also found a five year lag which suggests that years after unemployment increases, additional people continued to die of untreatable cancers.
Once the researcher controlled for the presence of universal health coverage, those differences vanished.
The study did have limitations. The accuracy of cancer and mortality data varies widely by country. The pattern is only an association and can’t prove that the economic downturn caused more deaths.
Nevertheless, researchers believe that the findings support the idea that universal health care coverage could improve the prognosis for patients with cancer at an early stage.