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Researchers affiliated with the Findings from the National Program Registries Patterns of Care Study have reported that, due to later diagnoses and less aggressive treatments, low socioeconomic status is associated with a higher cancer mortality. The details of this study were reported in the August 1, 2008 issue of Cancer.

The American Cancer Society, citing statistics from Cancer Facts and Figures 2006, has reported a decrease in the number of deaths from cancer between 2002 and 2003, which is the first decrease in cancer deaths in more than 70 years. A graph from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the number of cancer deaths in the United States rose from approximately 340,000 in 1970 to 557,271 in 2002; however, the number of cancer deaths in 2003 was lower at 556,902. It is also reported that death rates have fallen for the four major cancers that cause more than half of all cancer deaths (lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer).

Researchers from Emory University have recently reported that the declines in death rates from lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer in persons under the age of 65 years are limited to the highly educated. This data clearly showed that cancer deaths in younger individuals are related to education level, which may be a surrogate marker for socioeconomic status.

The current study looked at 4,844 women with breast cancer, 4,332 men with prostate cancer, and 4,422 men and women with colorectal cancer diagnosed in the United States in 1997. These authors reported that low socioeconomic status was associated with more advanced disease at diagnosis and less aggressive treatments for all three cancers studied.

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  • Low socioeconomic status was associated with a 59% increase in deaths from breast cancer.
  • Low socioeconomic status was associated with a 33% increase in deaths from prostate cancer.
  • For all three sites, socioeconomic status was a stronger predictor of mortality in persons younger than 65 years of age than in older individuals.
  • Socioeconomic status was also a stronger predictor of mortality in persons in minority ethnic groups.

These results indicate that low socioeconomic status is associated with a worse outcome for patients diagnosed with cancer.  However, programs do exist to aid patients financially with healthcare costs; therefore, patients who may not be able to afford healthcare should speak with their physician or other healthcare provider regarding potential assistance.

Reference: Byers TE, Wolf HJ, Bauer KR, et al. The impact of socioeconomic status on survival after cancer in the United States. Cancer. 2008;112:582-591.

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