The economic crisis of 2008-10, and the rise in unemployment that accompanied it, was associated with more than 260,000 excess cancer-related deaths—including many that were considered treatable—within the Organization for Economic Development (OECD), according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Imperial College London, and Oxford University. 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 May 25, 2016 in The Lancet.

“Higher unemployment due to economic crisis and austerity measures is associated with a higher number of cancer deaths. Universal health coverage protects against these deaths. That there are needless deaths is a major societal concern,” said Rifat Atun, professor of global health systems at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. He added that 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.

“Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, so understanding how economic changes affect cancer survival is crucial,” says lead author Mahiben Maruthappu from Imperial College London. “We also found that public health care spending was tightly associated with cancer mortality—suggesting health care cuts could cost lives.”

Although previous studies have shown connections between economic changes and rates of suicides, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality, only a few had examined the relationship between economic downturns and cancer outcomes.

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