JUN 23, 2021 8:18 AM PDT

Military universal health system boasts higher survival rates for colon cancer patients

New results published in the American Association for Cancer Research journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention highlight the importance of universal health care for patients with colon cancer. The report is based on findings that colon cancer patients enrolled in the U.S. military's universal health care system demonstrated higher survival rates compared to patients in the general population.

The US Military Health System (MHS) offers universal health care for active-duty service members, retirees, and National Guard members, as well as their families. To date, there has been little investigation into how the US MHS compares with Medicaid or private health insurance. To address that gap, study author Craig D. Shriver, MD, FACS, FSSO analyzed data from the Department of Defense's Automated Central Tumor Registry (ACTUR) and the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database.

"Colorectal cancer has the third-highest death rate out of all cancers in the U.S. Therefore, it is highly important to improve survival of patients with colon cancer," said Shriver, who is a retired U.S. Army colonel as well as professor and director of the Murtha Cancer Center Research Program at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. 

In comparing follow-up outcomes of the 1,907 ACTUR patients to 23,814 SEER patients, all of whom were diagnosed with colon cancer between 1987 and 2013, Shriver and his team found that the ACTUR patients had an 18 percent lower risk of death, independent of age group, gender, race, and year of diagnosis.

While the study didn’t set out to specifically investigate racial disparities in survival among colon cancer patients, findings showed that Black patients in the ACTUR database were 26 percent less likely to die of colon cancer than those in the SEER database. Because access to health care has been signaled as a cause for disparities in cancer survival between Black and white Americans, Shriver points out that, "The survival benefit of Blacks in our study suggests that a universal health care system may be helpful to reduce racial disparity." 

"The Military Health System provides medical care with minimal or usually no financial barriers. Thus, our findings provide solid evidence of the benefits of access to universal health care," Shriver concludes. "What's more, when medical care is universally provided to all patients, racial disparity in colon cancer outcomes can be reduced."

Sources: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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