Getting a cancer diagnosis has got to be one of life’s scariest moments. We all hope we never have to hear those words. What if you found out that you had cancer and an increased chance of dying from your cancer because of where you live? That’s difficult news to hear. Why does where you live impact your cancer outcome?
What’s the research show about the impact of where you live on your likelihood of surviving cancer?
Researchers found large differences in cancer death rates among counties in the US, based on a review of cancer mortality rates for 29 cancers in the U.S. between 1980 – 2014.
The good news it cancer deaths have decreased overall by 20%. The bad news is that your chance of death is impacted by where you live. For example, in 2014, the cancer mortality rate in Summit County, Colorado was 70.7/100,000 people, compared to 503.1/100,000 for Union County Florida. That is an astounding difference.
They also found there were “distinct clusters of counties with especially high mortality”, including a cluster of breast cancer in the southern belt and liver cancer along the Texas-Mexico border.
Where you live can impact how quickly you receive treatment.
Additionally, a study of breast cancer patients in North Carolina between 2004 and 2017 found that patients in certain regions were more likely to wait more than 60 days from their diagnosis to their first treatment.
Certainly, delays in cancer treatment can lead to poorer outcomes. For instance, for breast cancer, treatment delays of 30 – 60 days are associated with decreased survival. Additionally, delays in the time between surgery and chemotherapy, and delays in completing all therapeutic treatments, have also been linked to higher risk of breast cancer recurrence and lower chances of survival.
What can you do to impact your cancer outcome?
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your care and give yourself (or a loved one) a chance for a better outcome. When dealing with cancer or any other serious illness, consider my recommendations:
Find the best doctor possible
- Find a doctor who has experience with your specific illness. You don’t want your doctor learning about your condition while he/she is treating you. Of course, there are very rare diseases, including some cancers, that many doctors have not seen. If this happens to you, research online to find a doctor who has at least some experience with your illness.
- If you cannot travel regularly to a teaching hospital, but could get to one occasionally, consider seeing a doctor at a teaching hospital who can diagnose your condition and oversee your treatment that you can then receive closer to home. Check with your insurance provider to learn about your coverage options.
- If you live in an isolated area and cannot get to another doctor, you can get a second opinion on-line, for a fee, from programs including Cleveland Clinic’s MyConsult program.
Make sure your diagnosis is correct
- Get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion. If possible, get an opinion from a doctor at a teaching hospital. Ideally, these additional opinions should be from doctors who work at different hospitals. For more information, read Why are Second Opinions Important?
- Research your condition and treatment options, including clinical trials. There might be trials and other treatments available that your doctor is not aware of. There are many websites you can use to research your illness and/or research potential clinical trials.
Get the most out of your medical appointments
- Be engaged in the process. It is critical that you advocate for yourself – ask questions, make sure you understand the answers, take detailed notes at all appointments. Research shows that effective communication between the doctor and patient results in improved outcomes.
- Make sure your doctor is listening to you. If your doctor interrupts you regularly, and/or you feel like your voice is ignored, consider finding another doctor. The patient is an important part of the medical team.
- Speak up if something doesn’t seem right! Don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel – although do so as nicely as possible.
Pay attention to medication management
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed. If you cannot do so, let your doctor know. For detailed tips, read Reduce Your Risk of Medication Errors.
Don’t let financial issues derail you
- If financial concerns are keeping you from medical appointments and treatments, from picking up medications, or are impacting your health negatively in other ways, speak to your hospital social worker about financial assistance and/or look at Zaggo’s resource page for general financial help and financial assistance with medications.
For more detailed recommendations, read What Should You Do When You Get a Cancer Diagnosis?
Being an engaged member of your medical team can help you get the best care and positively impact your cancer outcome. Read these blog posts for more information:
- Can Ethnicity and Race Impact Cancer Survival?
- How to Choose a Hospital for Cancer Treatment.
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- What is the Best Time of Day for Medical Care?
- 10 Tips for a Better Medical Appointment.
- Can You Trust Medical Information Online?
- Can You Trust Advice from Other Patients?
- Understanding Medical Information Is Harder Than Most Realize.
- Why Take Detailed Notes at Doctor Appointments?
NOTE: I updated this post on 1-30-23.