Global Economic Crisis Linked to Hundreds of Thousands of Cancer Deaths

Increased unemployment shows a negative impact on worldwide cancer mortality.

An association was found between the economic crisis of 2008-2010, including the increase in unemployment, and more than 260,000 excess cancer deaths in a recent study.

The study, published in The Lancet, analyzed the link between cancer mortality, unemployment, and public health care spending.

“Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial,” said lead study author Mahiben Maruthappu. “We also found that public health care spending was tightly associated with cancer mortality--suggesting health care cuts could cost lives.”

Data was used from more than 70 high and middle-income countries around the globe from 1990 to 2010, representing about 2 billion people.

Researchers examined deaths from several treatable cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer, which have survival rates that exceed 50%. Data was also evaluated from a few untreatable cancers with 5-year survival rates that are less than 5%, including pancreatic and lung cancers in both men and women.

The results of the study revealed an association between the increase in unemployment and increased mortality from all cancer types within the study.

The strongest link was found in treatable cancers. These findings suggest that that inaccessible care could be a contributing factor to deaths occurring between 2008 and 2010.

Furthermore, when the estimates of expected cancer deaths were compared with actual deaths from 2008 to 2010, researchers found that the recent global economic crisis was linked with more than 260,000 excess cancer deaths among the 35 member states of the Organization for Economic Development OECD.

The adverse effects continued for several years after the initial unemployment increases and additional findings showed that excess cancer deaths occurred more significantly in middle-income countries than high-income countries.

Researchers also looked at universal health coverage (UHC) in different countries, defined as having legislation that mandates UHC, more than 90% health care coverage, and more than 90% skilled birth attendance. The association between excess cancer deaths and unemployment was non-existent in countries with UHC, suggesting that greater access to health care plays a key role in mitigating the issue.

Furthermore, increases in public sector health spending helped with the negative impact of unemployment increases. Limitations included that the study was not truly a global analysis because of scarce data made available from China, India, and other low-income countries.

Even though the study could not draw complete conclusions on mortalities, researchers noted that the changes in unemployment were followed by changes in cancer deaths, indicating a potential causal link.