The 2008 global economic crisis, and the rise in unemployment that accompanied it, was associated with more than 260,000 cancer-related deaths - including many considered treatable, according to a new study.
Researchers found that excess cancer burden was mitigated in countries that had universal health coverage (UHC) and in those that increased public spending on health care during the study period.
"Higher unemployment due to economic crisis and austerity measures is associated with higher number of cancer deaths. Universal health coverage protects against these deaths. That there are needless deaths is a major societal concern," said Rifat Atun, from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
He added that increased joblessness during the economic crisis may have limited peoples access to health care, leading to late-stage diagnoses and poor or delayed treatment.
"Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial," said Mahiben Maruthappu from Imperial College London, UK.
"We also found that public health-care spending was tightly associated with cancer mortality?suggesting health-care cuts could cost lives," Maruthappu said.
Although previous studies have shown connections between economic changes and rates of suicides, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality, only a few had examined the relationship between economic downturns and cancer outcomes, especially in countries with underdeveloped social security and health care systems.
The researchers analysed the link between unemployment, public health care spending and cancer mortality using data from 1990-2010 from more than 70 high and middle-income countries around the world, representing roughly 2 billion people.
The researchers looked at deaths from several "treatable" cancers, for which survival rates exceed 50% - including breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, and colorectal cancers in both men and women - and from a few "untreatable" cancers, including lung and pancreatic cancers in men and women.
They found that increases in unemployment were associated with increased mortality from all the cancer types included in the study.
The association was strongest for treatable cancers, suggesting that lack of access to care may have been a factor in these deaths.
Comparing estimates of expected cancer deaths with actual deaths from 2008-10, they found that the recent global economic crisis was linked with more than 260,000 excess cancer deaths among the 35 member states of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) alone.
Adverse health effects persisted for several years after initial increases in unemployment, the study found. In addition, excess cancer deaths were a more significant problem in middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
-With agency inputs