Poor suffer disproportionately from cancer

Cancer is increasingly a disease of the poor and a disease in which the poor suffer disproportionately, according to Harvard health economist Felicia Knaul. In a Q&A in the March 18, 2013 Boston Globe, Knaul spoke of how the poor suffer from many preventable cancers and often don’t receive as much morphine for pain as people who live in richer countries. Cancers in low- and middle-income countries can result from lifestyle factors, such as smoking or obesity, or from lack of access to prevention measures, such as the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

“There’s an incredible amount that can be done in terms of avoidable and preventable cancers that is really quite low-cost,” said Knaul, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative. “[Morphine] itself costs pennies. It’s an access issue and an issue of developing appropriate regulatory environments. For other interventions like the HPV vaccine [to prevent cervical cancer], there are some cost issues, but there are also many countries, quite poor, who have found solutions to this. Investing in prevention in developing countries is much less costly than what we’re losing in terms of productivity and suffering.”

Read the Boston Globe Q&A

Learn more

Fighting a global menace (Harvard Gazette)

Closing the cancer divide (HSPH feature)