Hundreds of thousands of cancer deaths around the world may have occurred as a result of the recession of 2008, experts have said.
Unemployment and austerity were associated with more than 260,000 extra deaths of cancer patients in countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a study has shown. Those countries with universal health coverage (UHC), such as the UK, and a record of increased public health spending, had fewer casualties.
Lead scientist Dr Mahiben Maruthappu, from Imperial College London, said: “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, but that universal health coverage protected against these effects. This was especially the case for treatable cancers including breast, prostate and colorectal [bowel] cancer.”
The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, looked at links between unemployment, public health care spending, and cancer deaths in more than 70 high- and middle-income countries. The data included fatality rates for several “treatable” cancers including breast, prostate and bowel cancer, and other more deadly cancers such as those of the lung and pancreas.
Higher unemployment was associated with increased mortality from all the different cancer types, especially treatable cancers, between 2008 and 2010. Lack of access to care may have been a factor that contributed to these excess deaths, researchers said.
An estimated 260,000 more cancer deaths than would have been expected without the recession occurred in the 35 member states of the OECD alone. In countries with universal health coverage the link between unemployment and excess cancer deaths disappeared. These were countries where UHC was enshrined in law and where 90% of the population had access to health care.
Of the OECD countries, 26 had universal health coverage while nine including Russia and the US did not.