Global economic downturn dramatically increased cancer deaths

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​London, May 29 (IANS) The economic crisis of 2008-10 and the rise in unemployment that accompanied it led to dramatic rise in cancer-related deaths, says a study.

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, the findings showed.

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 two billion people.

Scarcity of data prevented India, China and low-income countries from inclusion in the study, according to the researchers.

The 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.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet.

"Higher unemployment due to economic crisis and austerity measures is associated with higher number of cancer deaths. Universal health coverage protects against these deaths," said senior author of the study Rifat Atun, professor of global health systems at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Increased joblessness during the economic crisis may have limited people's access to health care, leading to late-stage diagnoses and poor or delayed treatment, he added.

"Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial," lead author Mahiben Maruthappu from Imperial College London said.

"We also found that public healthcare spending was tightly associated with cancer mortality -- suggesting healthcare cuts could cost lives," Maruthappu added.

The researchers looked at deaths from several "treatable" cancers, for which survival rates exceed 50 percent -- including breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, and colorectal cancers in both men and women -- and from a few "untreatable" cancers (with five-year survival rates less than five percent), including lung and pancreatic cancers in men and women.

The researchers 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 excess deaths.

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.​

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