Studies document that lack of health insurance results in delayed diagnosis of cancer.
A nationwide study published this month documented the fact that persons who don't have health insurance are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer in its later stages, frequently diminishing their chance for survival.
The study is to be published by the American Cancer Society in the online journal The Lancet Oncology. It evaluates a dozen different types of cancer, and drew its data from the National Cancer Data Base. It looked at 3.7 million patients diagnosed between 1998 and 2004.
The widest disparities were noted in cancers that are detectable early through standard screening: breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and melanoma. In each of these categories, uninsured individuals were two to three times more likely to be diagnosed at Stage III or IV, rather than stage I. By Stage III, metastasis has occurred, and the prognosis drops significantly. The study cites colon cancer as one example of declining survivability: 93 percent five-year survival at Stage I compared with 44 percent five-year survival at Stage III. Five-year survival at Stage IV is about eight percent. Smaller disparities were identified in other cancers such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and bladder, kidney,prostate, thyroid, uterine, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.
A Cancer Society spokesman responded to criticism with the claim that the Society accepts very little in the way of corporate donations from companies who might benefit by increased screening expenditures. The spokesman claimed that the ACS is very conservative in its recommendations for screening procedures. He urged broader screening for breast, colon and cervical cancers, in particular, due to the proven efficacy of early detection.