Lung Cancer Patients Get Unequal Treatment

A new study from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that patients who go to public hospitals for lung cancer care get less effective treatments than those who go to expensive cancer-oriented hospitals. The study also showed that patients who receive their care from public hospitals were nine times more likely to have severe symptoms when they check in for treatment than those who attend cancer centers such as MD Anderson.

The study examined the care in two Houston public hospitals, one Miami public hospital, and MD Anderson, one of the most respected cancer care centers in the world. Dr. Charles Cleeland, the study’s author, said that the disparity of care between public hospitals and cancer centers has existed “for the last couple of decades”. He also noted that lung cancer care “is less well managed” for patients who are poor, unemployed, members of minority groups or those that have little to no health insurance.

The number of public hospital patients experiencing symptoms before admitting themselves for care was nearly double that of cancer center patients. The study, which followed the patients’ progress for two months, showed major differences in the quality of care between the cancer center and the public hospitals. Dr. Cleeland said that patients in public hospitals that were displaying symptoms were “not being corrected”.

Dr. Cleeland also noted that the reasons for the differences in care between public hospitals and well-known cancer centers are “very complex”. “I don’t think it’s the intention of those caring for those folks,” he said. However, he did cite that the lack of access to technical resources or cancer specialists for those underserved patients might be some of the reasons behind the disparity.

A similar study conducted at the University of North Carolina found that African Americans are less likely than Caucasian patients to opt for surgery to remove lung tumors. Surgical tumor removal is often the most effective treatment in the early stages of the disease. Dr. Samuel Cykert, the UNC study’s author, attributed the differences to “unintended biases in physicians”. Dr. Cykert mentioned that doctors who work with underserved patients “would be less apt to recommend surgery” than they would for patients who could afford the procedure.

“Advocating for oneself is very important,” Dr. Cykert said. “Being passive is bad.”

The two doctors do agree on treating symptoms early, rather than allowing them to worsen before seeking help. Dr. Cleeland stressed that doctors, nurses and other health care professionals need to help patients with the symptoms of their lung cancer as much as with treating the cancer itself.

“I think we need to strategize about how to help them (underserved patients)”, he said. “This (study) is characterizing their experience.”

According to public health officials, 62 out of every 100,000 adults will be diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Underserved patients are more likely to engage in cigarette smoking, the primary cause of lung cancer in America, and are also more likely to die from lung cancer.

Sources:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/20/us-lung-cancer-patients-idUSTRE75J6Y320110620