Socioeconomic factors and age of cancer survivors played significant roles in their quality of life, in which survivors who were younger faced more negative mental quality of life compared with survivors who were older, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Surgical Research.
In particular, the researchers found that overall, survivors who had lower levels of education, lower household income, and did not racially identify as White had reduced physical quality of life (PQOL) and mental quality of life (MQOL).
In the global study, 782 cancer survivors were included — the average age was 57, 68% identified as women, 90.8% identified as White and there were 43 distinct cancer diagnoses.
The researchers’ objectives were to identify the differences in PQOL and MQOL in survivors after evaluating different socioeconomic factors. These factors included levels of education, household income, race and age.
“Physical quality of life is (a survivor’s) functional independence; it’s how well can (they) get around the house perform activities of daily living (according to their) strength,” Dr. Conor Maxwell, lead author of the study and a general surgery resident at Allegheny Health Network, explained during an interview with CURE®. “Mental quality of life is more about dealing with how down or depressed (a patient) feels and how well are (they’re) coping with (their) current diagnosis.”
In terms of socioeconomic factors among survivors, Maxwell and his team of researchers established that “people that had higher education levels tended to have — or statistically did have — improved physical quality of life, as well as mental quality of life.”
He noted that the level of health literacy, or “how well patients can understand the information they’re given,” as Maxwell said, was an important factor to address, as it tied into socioeconomic factors.
Financial toxicity — financial burdens caused by high medical costs — was another aspect of socioeconomic factors that affected survivors’ overall QOL, according to the study.
“Financial toxicity is the big one, especially as the US kind of has the highest health care costs worldwide,” Maxwell explained. “We found that patients with higher yearly household income tended to have better quality of life, as well. So, all those things kind of run together. Lower household income, lower education and age, all factored in, were still statistically significant to this cohort.”
Age, as Maxwell mentioned, was also a significant factor that affected survivors’ QOL, both physically and mentally.
“Younger patients tended to have worse mental quality of life. The average age of a cancer diagnosis is kind of later in life for most people, but younger patients who are diagnosed with cancer may take that harder and may not have the skills to cope as well, they may be dealing with school, financial or family stress that kind of adds on to that,” he said. “Interestingly, it was kind of different for older patients. Younger patients tend to have more mental impacts on their quality of life, but then older patients had more physical impacts, which I think has to do with older patients having more comorbidities that they’re kind of working against, so they kind of get greater deficits from their cancer diagnosis and treatment.”
Regarding both socioeconomic and QOL factors for survivors, Maxwell recommends utilizing all resources made available.
“Things such as these Facebook support groups are excellent resources for information and just general emotional support,” he said. “It’s kind of a nice community of survivors where they all say, ‘Hey, I had this done, what are your ways of dealing with this?’ Everybody’s got their little tips and tricks, and having that community is a free resource that is incredibly beneficial.”
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