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A study published by the Comprehensive Cancer Centre of the Netherlands (Integraal Kankercentrum Nederland, IKNL) has highlighted the striking differences in cancer diagnosis and treatment between lower and higher-income groups, revealing a concerning health divide in the country.

The IKNL’s 2024 report shows that individuals from lower-income backgrounds face significant challenges not only in the prevalence of cancer but also in the timely diagnosis and effective treatment of the disease.

Why this is important:

Significant differences in cancer treatment and diagnosis uncover severe societal health inequalities based on income – which can critically impact survival prospects.

With a 70% global increase in innovative technologies targeting cancer from 2015 to 2021, the Netherlands has emerged as a key player in cancer research innovation, ranking 5th globally, as per a recent study by the European Patent Office (EPO). The country invests heavily in innovative startups focused on cancer research, bolstered by active participation from universities and research institutions.

However, the IKNL’s report raises critical questions about the equitable distribution of these advancements. How accessible are they to all segments of society?

One of the report’s most alarming findings is the disparity in treatment access. For five common cancers, including breast and prostate cancer, the data indicates that lower-income patients are diagnosed later and are less likely to receive crucial treatments. The report sees a stark example in the treatment of metastatic melanoma. While 67% of higher-income patients receive immunotherapy, only 47% of those from lower-income brackets have access to this life-extending treatment.

Explaining the gap

The reasons behind these inequalities are varied. Lower-income patients often have additional health conditions, smoke more frequently, and are more likely to be overweight. These factors can limit the treatment options available to them. Furthermore, participation in programs designed to improve health before and during cancer treatment is less common among this group.

The implications of these findings are profound. Lower-income individuals in the Netherlands not only experience poorer health earlier but also face a shorter life expectancy, living on average seven years less than their higher-income peers. The health gap extends beyond life expectancy; those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds endure up to 22 years less in good health compared to wealthier individuals.

IKNL’s ongoing research aims to delve deeper into the inequalities in cancer survival and quality of life, striving to determine actionable insights that could bridge this health gap.
As we await further findings, the current data underscores an urgent need for targeted interventions to ensure fair healthcare access and outcomes for all, regardless of income.