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Study Finds Cancer Rates Declined During the Recession

News  |  By Doug Desjardins  
   March 13, 2017

Preventive care and early detection may be casualties of job loss, according to researchers with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

This story originally appeared in California Healthfax.

Overall cancer rates in California declined during the recession of 2008–2012 and the decline was due, at least in part, to higher unemployment and more people losing their health insurance, a recent study found.

The research, published in the February 2017 edition of Cancer Causes & Control, found that cancer rates among men in California declined 3.3% from 2008 to 2012 and declined 1.4% among women.

That compared to a decline of 0.7% among men and 0.5% among women during a pre-recession study period from 1997 to 2007.

The results suggest the decline in cancer rates was due to a similar decline in physician visits that resulted in fewer cancer diagnoses, said study lead author Scarlett Lin Gomez.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

"We speculate that, during periods of high unemployment, more people forgo wellness health visits for economic reasons due to changes in health insurance, such as losing insurance or going with a high-deductible plan," said Gomez. "This could decrease the number of cancer cases diagnosed, especially those that are early stage and non-symptomatic."

Researchers said the decline in cancer rates was surprising, given the aging population in California.

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The study found that "lower case counts, especially for prostate and liver cancer among males; and breast cancer, melanoma, and ovarian cancer among females, were associated with higher unemployment rates."

The study estimates that "the associations for melanoma translated with up to a 3.6% decrease in [diagnosed] cases with each 1% increase in unemployment."

Overall, the study found that "the large recent absolute declines in case counts of some cancers may be attributable to the large declines in employment in the recessionary period."

The study results also suggest that researchers may see cancer rights climb in 2013 and beyond as people regained insurance and began making more regular visits to physicians, Gomez said.

"The fact that cancer diagnoses declined so dramatically during the recession suggests that we could be seeing more late-stage cancer diagnoses in the coming years," she said.

A related study published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2016 estimated that the global recession produced an additional 260,000 cancer deaths in 34 countries that do not have universal healthcare.

The study attributed the spike in cancer deaths to people losing their employment-based health coverage during the recession and concluded that "increased unemployment is linked with increased cancer mortality."

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