The Poor: Losers to Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that 178,000 Americans will probably die "needless deaths" this year because they didn't get early diagnosis and treatment for cancer. About half of those deaths--a disproportionate number--will occur among the poor, whose economic status and lack of access to quality health care, says the society, often means that detection of cancer is delayed beyond the point where effective treatment can be given. In consequence, not only is mortality higher but "poor people endure greater pain and suffering from cancer than other Americans," the society reported.

In general, about half of all cancer patients are expected to survive their disease. But Americans living in poverty, says the society, have a cancer survival rate 10% to 15% below that of the general population. Access to health care is one reason. Cultural barriers, the society says, are another.

The poor, who tend to be less educated than the general population, are less likely to be aware of the warning signs of cancer and less aware of some of its contributory causes. Smoking, for example, is more prevalent among the poor, and smoking has been linked strongly to lung, bladder and other cancers. The poor and ignorant are also more likely to eat high-fat foods. Diets high in fats have been linked to colon, breast and other cancers.

The Cancer Society has announced that it will commit $2.8 million to develop demonstration cancer-education and-detection programs for the poor in Harlem, Miami and Oakland. The funds will also be used to help pay for local education and research activities aimed at the poor nationwide. This humane and necessary effort deserves to be supported and expanded. In the richest and most medically advanced of nations, it is morally unacceptable that each year tens of thousands of people should suffer and die from cancer, largely because--out of poverty, ignorance or both--they were unable to secure potentially life-saving early diagnoses and treatment.

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