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There has been remarkable progress in reducing cancer death rates in the United States. According to a new report issued by the American Cancer Society, between 1990 and 2007, the most recent years for which data are available, overall cancer death rates fell by about 22 percent in men and 14 percent in women, saving 898,000 Americans from premature deaths from cancer. However, not all segments of the U.S. population have benefited equally from this progress.
Death rates in people with lower socioeconomic status – as defined by the level of education, occupation or residence – showed little if any decrease, and even increased in some instances. As more Americans feel the economic pinch, or fall behind financially, will this translate to more cancer diagnoses and a larger number of cancer deaths particularly among the disadvantaged?
The causes of cancer disparities within different socioeconomic groups are complex to be sure; however, disparities predominantly arise from inequities in employment, the amount of income and wealth a person has, his or her level of education, and where he or she lives. These factors contribute to financial, social, structural and personal barriers that prevent people from seeking high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment services that saves lives.
That’s one reason why in 1989, Dr. Samuel Broder, then director of the National Cancer Institute, suggested that “poverty is a carcinogen,” or a cancer-causing agent.
A lesson can be gleaned from the African nation of Zimbabwe. Once a vibrant and diversified economy, Zimbabwe was a hope for the continent’s future. Today, it’s in deep crisis and the signs of collapse are tactile with a contracting economy, triple-digit inflation and a staggering devaluation of local currency, which at the latest figures have almost half the country facing food shortages.
There are many ways in which economic crisis can directly cause deaths, including starvation, lack of access to previously available medicines, or economically motivated violence.