Chemotherapy by Numbers

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A University of Michigan study has found that women with lower levels of education and/or income tend to get lower levels of something else—chemotherapy. Due to concerns or assumptions over how they will handle the side effects, doctors are three times more likely to give women with less education a reduced dose of chemotherapy.

The study, based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics and individual interviews, also found that women with less household income received less chemotherapy. The lead author of the study, Jennifer Griggs, said that doctors may have concerns over less educated patients’ possible misunderstanding the side effects of their treatments.

“It may be that negotiating side effects and continued doses of treatment is easier when there is more shared culture,” Griggs continued in a press release.

Doctors calculate chemotherapy doses based on height to weight ratio. Adjustments to the doses based on income or education can jeopardize survival rates for those patients.

“Simply put, this evidence shows that doctors are likely to reduce the chemotherapy levels for these women, even though there is no solid medical basis to do it,” said Gary Lyman, M.D., M.P.H., principal investigator and director of the ANC Study Group, a project that studies cancer patients starting chemotherapy that is funded by the pharmaceutical company Amgen.

— Caroline Dobuzinskis

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