Health insurance is key to detecting cancer before it's too late, even among young people.
That's the conclusion of a new American Cancer Society study that found uninsured young adults are up to twice as likely to get late-stage cancer diagnoses than their peers with private insurance.
The ACS sampled roughly 260,000 Americans ages 15 to 39 who were diagnosed with cancer between 2004 and 2010.
Among the sample, women without insurance were nearly twice as likely as those with private insurance to get late-stage diagnoses, while uninsured men were 1.5 times as likely to receive late-stage cancer diagnoses as their privately insured peers. Patients who receive late-stage cancer diagnosis — ones in which the cancer is detected only after it has spread to multiple parts of the body — are less likely to survive than those who are diagnosed earlier.
Public-policy initiatives to expand access to and reduce the cost of health insurance — such as the Affordable Care Act — could save lives as cancer is identified and treated earlier for newly insured patients, ACS researchers argue.
"The Affordable Care Act, with its focus on increasing private insurance coverage of young adults and providing certain cancer screenings at no cost to patients, has the potential to make a big impact on this age group," ACS Director of Health Services Research Anthony Robbins said in a press release. Robbins is the lead author of the study.
Uninsured patients were younger, more likely to be male, more likely to be black or Hispanic, and more likely to reside in the South, according to the study. The researchers also found that minorities were more likely to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis.
While having private insurance increased the likelihood that cancer would be caught early, Medicare and Medicaid patients were found to have about the same results as uninsured patients, troubling statistics for policymakers as they look to expand access to the programs across the country. More research must be done to confirm those findings, the ACS said, as some patients become newly and retroactively eligible for those programs because of a cancer diagnosis.
The findings are consistent with prior ACS research on the link between insurance status and cancer diagnoses, which has found that patients without insurance have a higher likelihood of advanced cancer diagnosis among the whole adult population and higher likelihood of advanced breast cancer among women.