Does access to private healthcare influence potential lung cancer cure rates?
Background. Numerous studies show a link between poor socioeconomic status (SES) and late-stage cancer diagnosis. However, this has not been consistently shown looking at non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in isolation. Despite the extremely high prevalence of lung cancer and disparities in access to healthcare based on health insurance in South Africa, there is a paucity of data on the influence of health insurance (as a surrogate for SES) on stage at presentation of NSCLC.
Objective. To assess the relationship between health insurance status (and invariably SES) and staging (and therefore resectability) of patients with primary NCSLC at the time of initial presentation.
Methods. Health-insured patients with NSCLC (n=51) were retrospectively compared with NSCLC patients with no health insurance (n=532) with regard to demographics, tumour node metastasis (TNM) staging, and cell type at initial presentation.
Results. Patients with no health insurance were younger (mean (standard deviation (SD)) 59.9 (10.1) years) than those with private health insurance (64.2 (9.6) years) (p=0.03). Poorly differentiated NSCLC was significantly more common in the privately health-insured group (23.6%) than among those with no health insurance (4.6%) (p<0.01). Six of 51 NSCLC patients (11.8%) with private health insurance presented with early-stage, potentially curable disease (up to stage IIIA), compared with 55 patients (10.3%) in the uninsured group (p=0.75).
Conclusions. Access to private health insurance did not have a significant impact on stage at initial presentation. The only significant differences were the relatively advanced age at presentation and relatively higher percentage of poorly differentiated NSCLC seen in patients with health insurance.