Insurance Status May Delay the Detection of Breast Cancer, Study Says

Last modified: January 10, 2020

A new study suggests that the lack of insurance could be a factor in the delayed detection of breast cancer among ethnic and racial minority women in the US. The study, published in JAMA Oncology, analyzed data from 177,075 women. 

The researchers found that minority women were diagnosed at a much later stage of the disease than white women. Additionally, the study pointed out that the lack of insurance is a major contributing factor to this finding. According to Dr. Naomi Ko, one of the study’s co-authors, they saw up to 50% of the disparity mediated by insurance status. 

The study focused on women aged 40 to 64 who were diagnosed with stage 1 to 3 primary invasive breast cancer. The results revealed that nearly 150,000 had adequate health insurance while 28,851 either had some coverage via Medicaid or no insurance at all. Unsurprisingly, the majority of women in the analysis (113,079) were white while 20,822 were black. Over 40,000 women were either American Indian, Asian, or Hispanic.  

Moreover, researchers calculated that the insurance status accounted for 45–47% of the disparity in breast cancer detection. While insurance isn’t the only contributing factor, Ko said that it would make a huge difference if everyone had insurance coverage. 

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of breast surgery at Mount Sinai West, believed that the solution would be more than just widening the insurance coverage. Genetics could be another reason as to why women of color suffer from the disease. Still, Bernik emphasized how important it is to improve access to screening and breast cancer treatments. 

Other experts thought that a lack of education also played a role in the healthcare issue. It’s possible that women fear that the screening might be painful, plus they might not understand why it is needed in the first place. In this case, healthcare providers must take the necessary steps through community outreach. They should explain the process to patients, including why compression is needed during a mammogram. 

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