The connection between food insecurity, housing, and breast cancer

woman handing out food in food line
Photo: SDI Productions (Getty Images)

There’s no question that socioeconomic status affects the quality of healthcare one receives, especially as we’ve seen in this awful pandemic, with populations of racial and ethnic minorities taking a disproportionately large hit for many reasons. But it turns out that food and housing insecurity also have a connection to ongoing health issues such as breast cancer.

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Docwirenews reports that it takes longer for women who are in the midst of dealing with food and housing insecurities to receive a cancer diagnosis, compared to those who aren’t facing similar issues. This is due to lapses in follow-up appointments with doctors, and it’s possible that the delay in a diagnosis leads to greater health complications down the line. Researchers will be presenting a study about this quiet crisis at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Michael D. Fishman, M.D. and assistant professor of radiology at the Boston University School of Medicine, said in a press release, “Our findings indicate longer lapses between diagnostic imaging and biopsy for patients with unmet social needs, which begs the question: are unmet social needs associated with some amount of breast cancer mortality that could have been prevented? We seek to investigate this in future work.”

A 2020 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that almost one in three renters and one in six homeowners in America experienced housing insecurity issues in the first half of the year. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows 11.1% of American households reporting food insecurity in 2018. With today’s current economic state and fewer jobs to go around, there’s no telling what that number is right now. But this brings up the fact that our social status in life affects our health in many ways, and those in need are more in need than ever.

Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

Low socioeconomic status correlates with worse outcomes for any disease you can name. People working two jobs can’t just drop everything and take the next available appointment. They probably have worse insurance so they delay diagnostic testing since it will cost them more. They get lost to follow up because they can’t find time to keep appointments. They have to chose between food and medication. They don’t have the resources to pursue a good diet or exercise plan. And about a dozen other things.

The thing is, all this means their healthcare costs more in the long run. They don’t go for regular checkups so they don’t get educated in how to prevent illness and end up using the ER for primary care issues. They present later in the course of disease and sicker, so their care costs more. This is the entire point behind the ACA. If you can diagnose somebody with pre-diabetes and get them on an exercise and diet program or get them on medication early, then they don’t present to the ER in Diabetic keto-acidosis, require ICU admission, and already have kidney disease, vision problems, peripheral neuropathy, and a host of other late complications. Preventing just one of those cases saves enough money to pay for the care of dozens or hundreds of people who get seen regularly and treated well. This has been conclusively proven by comparing outcomes in dozens of diseases between states that did or did not engage in the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, but that was passed by a black guy and a Democrat, so the southeast quarter of the country (plus a few) would rather their poor people just suffer and their state budgets get strained than admit that he could be right.