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Lack of adequate housing is a mortal danger for cancer patients

Among the many social and economic factors that can affect our health, the UC San Diego School of Medicine has found that housing insecurity is the one most strongly linked to death among cancer patients.

The study appeared in the journal JAMA Network Open. It examined 1,277 people diagnosed with cancer, and further examined those patients who experienced social and financial difficulties.

“Compared to people who do not have housing instability, those who do have a greater, about a two-fold greater risk of mortality or death,” said study co-author Matthew Banegas, who is director of the Center for Health Equity Education and Research at UC San Diego.

Researchers reached their conclusion about housing instability after considering other risk factors: financial hardship, food insecurity and transportation problems. Banegas said the study did not answer the question of why housing instability was most likely to lead to death among cancer patients. But he said having inadequate housing is a multi-faceted problem.

“For example, is it the fact that they don’t have a stable shelter over their head, or is it that they don’t have access to utilities in their house?” Banegas said. “So again, there are several things that could go into being housing unstable.”

The influence that social and economic pressures put on our health is not always considered in medical prescriptions. Banegas said, for instance, it is not practical to prescribe the use of a medical device if there’s no place at home to plug it in.

“Social risk factors reflect circumstances that are influenced by where we live, where we work, and where we interact in our daily lives,'' he said.

“We know that all of those conditions are going to impact us as individuals and the way we encounter life on a day-to-day basis. So I think it makes sense for us to say it’s very likely that these social risk factors also influence our health.”

Banegas said the study was one way to point that out.

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