Unemployment Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

There are any number of factors that can impact whether a cancer diagnosis will be fatal. Which cancer is involved, its stage, your age, other medical conditions you may have and overall health are just some of the many variables. A recent study shows a new issue to think about: if you recently lost a job.

Developed nations had a small increase in cancer deaths during the global economic crisis, according to a Washington Post article on a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet. Statistically there was an estimated 260,000 unexpected cancer related deaths between 2008 and 2010.

Increased unemployment rates were associated with increased cancer deaths except in countries where universal health care is available. In these countries you don’t need private health insurance, while most of us in the U.S. get it through our employer or our spouse’s employer, to get medical treatment.

The association between unemployment increases and mortality increases were statistically significant for “treatable” cancers (like breast and prostate cancers) but not for cancers like pancreatic cancer deemed “untreatable” because of low survival rates. This seems to indicate that unemployed people (at greater numbers than those with jobs) may have skipped medical appointments that may have diagnosed “treatable” cancers at an earlier, more “treatable” stage or skipped cancer treatments they couldn’t afford.

The study looked at cancer mortality data from more than 70 countries which showed a one percent rise in unemployment was associated with 0.37 additional cancer deaths per 100,000 people. There was also a five-year lag, suggesting that years after unemployment grew, more people continued to die of treatable cancers.

The Post article pointed out that while the federal government is proposing increased spending for cancer treatment research as part of a “Cancer Moonshot” more lives could be saved in at least the short term if more money was spent to make existing cancer treatments more accessible to people now, whether or not they have jobs and/or health insurance.

The report is based on statistics and like any statistical analysis, it’s not perfect, opinions can differ on methods and conclusions and there’s not an established cause and effect link between unemployment and dying of cancer.

But these numbers are eye openers and show that there are factors in our lives that have nothing to do with health, science or medicine that could mean the difference between life and death. The study also shows one of the benefits of a single payer healthcare system where one’s ability to obtain medical treatment isn’t dependent upon having health insurance or a job.

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