Recognize and respond to food insecurity in people with cancer

In 2020, 13.8 million (10.5%) of United States (US) households were food insecure.1 Black and Hispanic households, families with children, and single-parent families experience food insecurity at higher rates.1 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as not having enough food to meet the requirements of a healthy, active lifestyle.2 People with low food security worry that their food will run out, the quality or variety of food will decrease, and they may experience disturbances in eating patterns, such as going a whole day without eating due to lack of money.2 Millions of Americans are food insecure, and some even have cancer.

Food insecurity among cancer survivors

The American Cancer Society (ACS) defines a cancer survivor as “anyone with a history of cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the rest of their life.”3 There are approximately 1.9 million new cancer survival cases in the United States in 2022, or about 5,250 new cases each day, with the 5-year survival rate increasing to 68% in 2017 from about 49 % in the mid-seventies. .4 There were approximately 16.9 million cancer survivors in the United States as of January 2019, with 22.1 million cases expected in 2030.4 The increased survival rate is due to many factors, including early detection practices, age and stage at diagnosis, and advances in cancer treatments.4 Doctor and patient attitudes, financial resources, treatment plan, and insurance status also affect survival,3 So does food insecurity.

In a recent nationwide survey of more than 10,000 cancer survivors, 28% experienced food insecurity,5 However, this prevalence was found to be significantly higher (55%) in patients receiving care at low-income, ethnically diverse oncology clinics in New York City. Cervix, ovaries and uterus,7 As well as head and neck cancer.8 Various factors are associated with food insecurity among cancer survivors. Findings from a recent systematic review of 11 studies showed a higher prevalence of food insecurity among cancer survivors who had children, were young, were non-Hispanic, had lower incomes, had less education, had no health insurance coverage, and had no partner. It found that females were more likely to be food insecure than males at 10.7% and 5.3%, respectively, and that survivors under the age of 40 had higher rates of food insecurity than survivors over the age of 60 (20.7% vs. 4.27%) .7 In addition, income, health insurance, and partner status were related to food insecurity for cancer survivors.7 Importantly, uninsured cancer survivors reported food insecurity of about 26.53%, compared to those with health insurance of 7.08%.7 Food insecurity is multifaceted and has major implications for people with cancer.

Effects of food insecurity in cancer survivors

Food insecurity is associated with adverse mental and physical outcomes, including poor general health, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.10 Cancer survivors who do not have enough food have worse quality of life and worse health outcomes than cancer survivors who have enough food to eat.11 In fact, food insecure people experience some of the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment, including fatigue, malnutrition, and poor resistance to infection.9 The demands placed on cancer patients include costs for prescriptions and treatments, time away from work and travel, and potentially expensive dietary requirements,12 All of this can reduce the amount of money a person has for food. In addition, a person who is food insecure may not be able to stick to their medication regimen, which increases the risk of complications from the disease.12 In one study, 55% of food-insecure patients did not take their medication because they could not afford it, compared to 12% of their food-secure peers.13


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