The idea that cancer treatment should be available and prescribed based on a patient’s particular medical needs, and not marital status, seems obvious. Yet bias in favor of married people can affect the type and aggressiveness of treatment that patients receive, according to one recent study that should ring alarm bells for patients.
Mesothelioma patients, like all cancer patients, come from a myriad of demographics: married, divorced, widowed, single; and of different races, religions, and sexual orientations, among other characteristics. Why then would a cancer patient’s marital status have anything to do with the type of care they receive?
One researcher believes that inherent bias and overgeneralization by medical practitioners can affect how they view patients, and thus the type of care they recommend.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance classified as a carcinogen in the United States, and was used in insulation and fireproofing applications for many years. When it breaks down, inhaling asbestos fibers can produce mesothelioma, which is a cancer affecting the lining of the lungs and other organs. Those who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace often do not see development of symptoms until decades after the exposure.
While mesothelioma cannot be cured, there are chemotherapies, immunotherapies, radiation, surgery, and other treatments available. More is forthcoming, as ongoing research and development strives to provide new options for patients.
A recent Washington Post piece highlighted a case where the writer herself realized a difference in recommended cancer treatment, based on her single status. The writer happened to also be a skilled researcher, and so to test the theory, turned to the National Cancer Institute’s extensive research studies.
Her findings from a database review showed that single patients did, in fact, have major differences in treatment. Her own experience led her to pursue more aggressive treatment with another oncologist. But the findings showed that she was not unique in noticing that single patients are treated differently than married patients.
In one prominent oncology journal, more than three-quarters of a million patients with cancer were studied. The journal article associated single status with depression, lack of social supports, and medical noncompliance – despite the lack of hard statistical data comparing single adults with others in the U.S. population.
It also did not show a scientific reason to generalize that this profile might fit over 110 million single adults. Other studies showed similar perceived bias, and indicated that an inherent bias in the medical field can leave unmarried cancer patients at a serious disadvantage.
Recommendations include that the medical community recognize that while marriage conveys a type of security and support not available to single adults, this is a conventional but not statistically true idea. Recognizing bias in medical treatment, whether on the basis of family status, age, economic status, or other factors, is critical for medical practitioners to be able to provide the best care possible.
It also means that patients as consumers of the medical industry must always explore alternatives and second opinions if they believe they are not getting appropriate care.
If you have contracted mesothelioma, contact the highly experienced and dedicated team of Philadelphia asbestos lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler for a free consultation. We proudly represent clients in Philadelphia and Delaware County, Chester County, Philadelphia County, across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Please complete our online request form or call us at 215-569-4000.