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Dhaka Tribune

A problem metastasizing

What is the social cost of cancer?

Update : 02 Dec 2023, 12:59 PM

The social cost of cancer burden refers to the broader impact that cancer has on society beyond the direct costs. This encompasses various economic, social, and emotional costs that affect individuals, families, communities, and the health care system of any given locality. The direct social cost of cancer is the cost of cancer care. These include expenses related to diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care. 

This comprises hospitalization, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, medications, and other health care services. 

The social cost of cancer includes emotional and psychological factors as well. Physical symptoms, emotional distress, and changes in daily life can contribute to a decrease in overall well-being. The emotional toll of cancer includes anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges for both patients and their loved ones. 

While summarizing its social impacts, I found that cancer can disrupt family routines and relationships for the worse. Caregivers may face challenges balancing work and their responsibilities, leading to stress and strain on family dynamics. Some individuals may experience social stigma related to cancer, leading to isolation and a sense of alienation from their communities. The cancer health-care system has an impact that increases the overall social cost.

The high cost of cancer care can strain health-care systems, affecting resource allocation and prioritization. This may impact the availability of resources for other medical conditions and services. The increasing prevalence of cancer places demands on health-care infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics, and specialized cancer care services. The imbalance in prioritizing in the health care system increases the burden of other diseases as well.

If we narrow down our focus to the social cost of cancer in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), it is particularly challenging due to a combination of economic, health-care, and societal factors. In many LMICs there is inadequate access to health-care facilities, diagnostic tools, and cancer treatments. This can result in delayed diagnoses, limiting the effectiveness of treatment. The economic impact of cancer in LMICs is highly significant. Many individuals face financial barriers to accessing cancer care, and treatment costs can push families into poverty. Loss of income due to illness, caregiving responsibilities, and premature death further exacerbate the economic burden on affected households. 

LMICs often lack the necessary infrastructure and resources for cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment. This includes shortages of trained health-care professionals, specialized centers, and essential medications. Due to late-stage diagnoses and limited treatment options, the mortality rates for certain types of cancer can be higher in LMICs. This not only impacts individuals and families but also contributes to a loss of productive members of society.

The stigma surrounding cancer may prevent individuals from seeking timely medical care or openly discussing their diagnosis. Lack of awareness about cancer prevention and early detection further contributes to late-stage demonstrations. Palliative care is often insufficient in LMICs, and this lack of support can lead to increased suffering for patients and their families. 

Addressing the social cost of cancer burden requires a comprehensive approach, including improved access to health-care, support for caregivers, investment in research, and public health strategies aimed at prevention and early detection. Collaboration among health-care providers, policy-makers, and the community is crucial to mitigating the multifaceted impact of cancer on society. It is crucial that we mobilize resources and expertise to address the specific challenges faced by LMICs in the fight against cancer.

Jannatul Sumrina is Senior Research Assistant, BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University.

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