Economic crisis linked to cancer deaths

Less spending on health a key reason
  • Deborah Condon

The global economic crisis that began in 2008 can be linked to thousands of additional cancer deaths worldwide, including more than 169,000 within the European Union (EU), a new study has found.

According to the findings, these deaths were due to unemployment and reduced spending on public health services.

UK and US researchers carried out the first global analysis to assess the impact of unemployment and changes in public sector healthcare spending on cancer deaths.

They found that the global economic crisis that began in 2008 was associated with over 263,000 additional cancer seaths in countries within the Oragnisation for Economic Development (OECD) by 2010. Of these deaths, some 169,000 occured within the EU.

"Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial. We found that increased unemployment was associated with increased cancer mortality.

"We also found that public healthcare spending was tightly associated with cancer mortality - suggesting healthcare cuts could cost lives. If health systems experience funding constraints, this must be matched by efficiency improvements to ensure patients are offered the same level of care, regardless of economic environment or employment status," commented the study's lead author, Dr Mahiben Maruthappu, of Imperial College London.

The study involved data from over 70 countries, which represents around two billion people. The researchers analysed trends over the 20-year period 1990 to 2010.

They looked at a number of different types of cancers including breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men and colorectal and lung cancer in both men and women. Cancers were classified as untreatable if the survival rates were less than 10%, or treatable if the survival rates were over 50%.

The researchers found that increases in unemployment were linked with a rise in deaths across all cancers, but this link disappeared if universal healthcare was available.

"In countries without universal health coverage, access to healthcare can often be provided via an employment package. Without employment, patients may be diagnosed late, and face poor or delayed treatment," they noted.

They also found that cancer deaths increased as public health expenditure decreased.

Details of these findings are published in the medical journal, The Lancet.


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