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March 16, 2016

Children with leukemia relapse sooner if they're from a poor neighborhood, study finds

Boston study finds that kids from high-poverty zip codes have lower survival rates for leukemia

Children living in high-poverty areas are more likely to die from cancer and relapse earlier than children from low-poverty areas, reports the Atlantic.

In a recent study, researchers at children's cancer center in Boston, Massachusetts, examined data on 575 children who were treated for ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) between 2000 and 2010. Kids from high-poverty zip codes have a five-year overall survival rate of 85 percent, compared to 92 percent for low-poverty zip codes — even though all kids received the same treatment.

Kids from poor neighborhoods were not more likely than their more well-off counterparts to relapse, but when they did relapse, they did so far sooner. Ninety-two percent of the poor-neighborhood kids who relapsed did so within three years, compared to 48 percent of other kids who relapsed.

“If you relapse early, it’s significantly harder to cure you,” lead author Kira Bona told the Atlantic. “The difference is pretty dramatic.”

Another study last year from the same author found that almost one-third of families in Boston whose children had cancer had trouble meeting their own basic needs, like paying for food, shelter, or electricity bills. One-fourth of them lost over 40 percent of their household income while the child was sick.

“When your financial situation is causing you to have your heat shut off—and your child has cancer, and they’re immune compromised — it’s a very dangerous situation,” Carla Tardif of the nonprofit Family Reach Foundation told the magazine.

Bona urged doctors to think more about how they could help patients struggling with the financial implications of a cancer diagnosis, not just the medical implications. Hospitals could help by asking patients' families about their financial needs and giving out pre-paid grocery store gift cards or other resources.

Read the full story here.

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