How a cancer patient’s healthcare is handled after he is diagnosed with cancer is affected a lot by whether he has health insurance or not. This is what two new studies by Christopher Sweeney from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston) and Judy Huang of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found out. The studies were published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

The studies which looked at two cancers in particular — testicular germ cell tumors and glioblastoma, a highly invasive brain cancer — indicated that cancer patients who were uninsured or had Medicaid coverage experienced a variety of weird phenomena including later stage diagnosis, having shorter durations of survival times, when compared to patients with other form of insurance.

These studies were conducted to better find the impact of cancer and how it affects others, since it is the second leading cause of death, only behind heart disease, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the testicular cancer study, which was headed by Christopher Sweeney, MBBS, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, researchers identified 10,211 men diagnosed with testicular cancer between a time frame of 2007 and 2011.

The researchers discovered that patients who did not have insurance and patients who were provided insurance by Medicaid, a social health program for families belonging to poor backgrounds, had a higher risk of having bigger testicular cancer tumors or tumors that had been metastasized at the time of diagnosis, and they were more likely to die from their disease compared with patients who were insured.

Among patients with metastatic disease, those who were uninsured or had Medicaid coverage were more likely to have cancer categorized as “intermediate” or “poor” as opposed to good.

Among patients with an early stage of the disease, both uninsured and Medicaid patients were less likely to have their lymph nodes removed, a medical procedure that can cure cancer in some cases. In patients that exhibited an advanced form of the disease, only uninsured patients, but not Medicaid patients, were less likely to receive radiation therapy.

Regarding the fascinating results of the study, Dr Sweeney added, “Although testes cancer is curable with chemotherapy, this study supports the notion that lack of insurance may lead to delays in diagnosis and more advanced and less curable disease. Our findings support the belief that early diagnosis and management is key, and removal of barriers to access to healthcare should be implemented.”

In the study related to glioblastoma, which is the most common malignant primary brain tumor in adults, Judy Huang, MD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was the lead researcher of the study, and her colleagues identified 13,665 patients who were diagnosed with glioblastoma between the years of 2007 and 2012.

Patients who did not have any insurance or were covered by Medicaid were at a higher risk of having larger tumors and were more likely to die an early death due to the glioblastoma cancer as compared to patients who were insured. Patients with Medicaid insurance were less likely to undergo surgery, while both Medicaid insurance and uninsured patients were linked with lower rates of receiving adjuvant radiotherapy.

What was quite remarkable about the study was the fact that only non-Medicaid insured patients experienced an improvement in survival over time, with patients diagnosed in 2012 having better survival rates than those diagnosed in 2007.

Dr Huang added to the results by saying, “This suggests that while improvements in medical therapy have resulted in longer survival, this benefit is less likely to be accessible to Medicaid-insured or uninsured patients.” Wuyang Yang, MD, MS, co-lead author of the study, corroborated the investigation by saying, “This study indicates significant disparities in the management of glioblastoma patients under our existing healthcare insurance framework that need to be addressed.”

What these studies show is that cancer is greatly affected by a person’s insurance status, adding fuel to the age-old debate that ‘wealth is actually health’, meaning that not everyone can actually afford cancer treatment.

What this means is that researchers will actually work even harder to find cures that are relatively cheap, meaning finding raw materials for chemicals from cheaper alternative sources, using materials that are abundantly found naturally, hence their cost of production will be low.

Also, the use of 3D printers to mass produce chemicals or machinery components will pave the way for the future since it’s been shown many a times that 3D printing has cut down manufacturing costs of raw materials significantly.

Moreover, there are many new discoveries being made in the field of cancer research that involve using older treatments or techniques that have added benefits of fighting tumors.

A team of 14 researchers at University of Oxford has recently published a report saying that a drug previously used in malaria research, atovaquone, could be a potent mix in cancer treatment. The group is hopeful that this drug can be used to make cells more sensitive to radiotherapy, hence increasing its effectiveness. The drug is expected to alleviate the state of hypoxia among cancer cells, thereby increasing their radio sensitivity.

These recent discoveries show that cancer research is headed in the right direction, and it won’t be long that people who are not financially well off can safeguard their health and increase their chances of leading a better life.