Cancer Rates Declined During the Great Recession

New study from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California finds link between declines in cancer cases and higher unemployment rates.

FREMONT, Calif. (February 3, 2017) — The number of people diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. underwent a large, rapid decline in recent years. This trend is surprising given the growth in the number of aging adults at risk for cancer. 

A new study, led by the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and e-published in the January 27 issue of Cancer Causes Control, found that the decline may be correlated to a reduction in preventative health behaviors as a result of the Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.  

According to Scarlett Lin Gomez, the lead researcher on this study, “We speculate that during periods of high unemployment, more people forego wellness health visits for economic reasons or due to changes in health insurance, such as losing insurance or going to a high deductible plan. This could decrease the number of cancer cases diagnosed, especially those that are early-stage and non-symptomatic.” 

The rate of decline in cancer incidence during the recession/recovery period was 3.3 percent for males and 1.4 percent for females in comparison to 0.7 and 0.5 percent, respectively, before the recession. These before and after differences were most significant for prostate, lung and colorectal cancers.

To conduct this study, researchers evaluated trends in cancer incidence during the pre-recession timeframe of 1996–2007, and the recession/recovery timeframe of 2008–2012 for all cancers combined and the ten most common types of cancer using California Cancer Registry data. Researchers focused on the 30 most populous of California’s 58 counties capturing both urban and rural areas. The impact of the recession was measured by unemployment rate and a county-level index.

Given these results, the number of people diagnosed with cancer might rise in upcoming years as a result of delayed diagnosis of non-symptomatic or less urgent cancers. 

To the researchers’ knowledge, this study is the first evidence from the U.S. of a direct correlation between changes in cancer incidence and the Great Recession.  

Additional study co-authors are Christina Clarke, Sally Glaser, Alison J. Canchola, Mindy DeRouen and Kathleen Davidson-Allen of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, David O. Nelson, Iona Cheng and Salma Shariff-Marco of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and Stanford, Theresa H.M. Keegan of UC Davis, and Ralph Catalano and William A. Satariano of UC Berkeley.
About the Cancer Prevention Institute of California
The Cancer Prevention Institute of California is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing cancer and to reducing its burden where it cannot yet be prevented. We are the only freestanding research institution working solely to prevent cancer using extensive population data. Our researchers study a wide range of cancer risk factors, such as racial/ethnic background, socioeconomic status, age, occupation, gender, genetic predisposition, geographic location, environment and lifestyle to determine how these factors affect frequency, distribution and types of cancers. For more information, visit the CPIC website at

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