How Do Socioeconomic Factors Impact Cancer Patient Survival?

More than just biological factors can affect patient outcomes.

More than just biological factors can affect patient outcomes.

Young patients who are single, have poor insurance, and who have lower incomes are at an increased chance of dying from acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a recent study indicates.

The research, published in Cancer, suggest that efforts are needed to address the social factors that impact critical aspects of health in these patients. AML is a deadly disease that will affect approximately 21,000 people and kill 10,000 people in 2015 in the United States alone.

Tremendous strides have been made in identifying risk factors for patients who have underwent intensive treatment. Now, investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are looking into non-biological patient characteristics to see how they affect patient outcomes.

The study found that patients who were single or divorced, patients who were uninsured or were Medicaid beneficiaries, and patients who lived in areas with lower income had substantially elevated risks of dying prematurely.

“We believe these three factors indicate lack of material and social support preventing young patients from successfully walking the long and difficult road towards a cure,” said lead author Uma Borate, MD, assistant professor in the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology.

The findings clearly indicate that more than just biological factors contribute to patient outcomes in AML treatment.

“As physicians, we often emphasize more of the biology of the cancer, especially with the recent focus on personalized medicine,” said senior author Luciano Jose Costa, MD, PhD, associate professor in the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology. “But we need to pay the same attention to resources available to our patients, as this greatly impacts their chances to survive leukemia.”

This will be especially important as the United States transitions to a health care system that ties physician and hospital payments to patient outcomes.

“Taking from the results of this study, factors that have nothing to do with quality of care need to be accounting for when comparing predicted with actual outcomes—otherwise we will create a disincentive for hospitals and doctors to care for less privileged patients,” Dr. Borate said.