Cancer Killers

Posted on September 17, 2007 

Cancer Killers

Last week the American Cancer Society announced it will no longer run ads about the dangers of smoking and other cancer-causing behaviors and the benefits of regular screenings. Instead, the Society will devote this year’s entire advertising budget to a campaign for universal health coverage. John Seffrin, the Society’s chief executive, said, “[I]f we don’t fix the health-care system . . . lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco.”

Sadly, these ads will waste money that should be used to continue the Society’s educational campaign about prevention and detection. The evidence shows that universal health coverage does not improve survival rates for cancer patients. Despite the large number of uninsured, cancer patients in the U.S. are most likely to be screened regularly, have the fastest access to treatment once they are diagnosed with the disease, and can get new, effective drugs long before they’re available in most other countries.

Last month, the largest ever international survey of cancer survival rates showed that in the U.S., women have a 63% chance of living at least five years after diagnosis, and men have a 66% chance — the highest survival rates in the world. These figures reflect the care available to all Americans, not just those with private health coverage. In Great Britain, which has had a government-run universal health-care system for half a century, the figures were 53% for women and 45% for men, near the bottom of the 23 countries surveyed.

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