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Patient’s Insurance Status tied to Cancer Outcome

Update Date: Aug 09, 2014 09:01 AM EDT

Health insurance can affect the level of medical care one receives. In a new study, researchers set out to examine the effects of insurance on cancer patients' outcomes. They found that people without insurance or people with federal health insurance, Medicaid, have a greater risk of having poor medical results in comparison to patients with better insurance coverage.

For this study, the researchers analyzed national cancer statistics between 2007 and 2010. The patients were between the ages of 18 and 64 and were diagnosed with one of the 10 most fatal types of cancer. The team focused on the patients' insurance status and their diagnosis, treatment and outcome over a three-year time span.

"We were surprised to find that patients without insurance were twice as likely as those with insurance to present with cancer that's spread from the place where it first started," said study author Dr. Gary Walker, a radiation oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer in Houston. "Even when adjusting for many different factors, patients were still more likely to die if they had Medicaid coverage or no insurance."

Patients without insurance and patients with Medicaid were more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer, less likely to receive surgery or radiation and more likely to die. Roughly 33 percent of these patients died within two years post diagnosis in comparison to just 14 percent of cancer patients with private insurance.

"Patients without insurance often times are forced to wait until their symptoms are very advanced before seeing a doctor, and patients without Medicaid or private insurance typically cannot afford costly surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy," explained study co-author Dr. Usama Mahmood, an assistant professor with the department of radiation oncology at Anderson according to Medical Xpress. "And there may be other social factors that hinder their ability to receive cancer care."

Overall, roughly 75 percent of the patients underwent surgery, radiation or both. The treatment rates for people without insurance, people with Medicaid and people with private insurance were 62 percent, 68 percent and 80 percent respectively. When the researchers accounted for variables, such as gender, age and race, they calculated that people on Medicaid and people without insurance were 44 percent and 47 percent more likely to die respectively from cancer over the span of two years.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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