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UPR presents cancer study of Puerto Rico’s elderly population

By on March 27, 2017

SAN JUAN – The University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus revealed Monday findings in its first report, “Cancer Prevalence in Puerto Rico’s Senior Citizens,” with the objective of raising awareness and promote education about cancer in people age 65 and older on the island.

Dr. José Carrión Baralt, one of the investigators in charge of the project, explained this is the first time this type of sampling is used with data gathered from insurance companies.

“The report is very particular in the sense that it has the largest sample that has been compiled of older adults in Puerto Rico, in addition to a review of a database of claims from insurers where there were more than 14 million claims by 424,000 insured people, so we believe this is the most representative sample of all the studies that have been done,” the scientist said.

RUM's gerontology program made the study using data obtained from insurance companies. (Courtesy)

RUM’s gerontology program conducted the study using data obtained from insurance companies. (Courtesy)

Among the most prominent findings, Carrión Baralt said they determined that cancer prevalence among Puerto Rico’s elderly in 2013 was 14.83%, corresponding to 64,956 people diagnosed with cancer who received treatment and were billed for it.

In addition, 57.8% of cancer patients age 65 or older were men, with prostate cancer being the most common diagnosis. Among diagnosed patients, 75% had six or more additional illnesses that were diagnosed and treated, compared to less than 40% of people without cancer.

“When a person has cancer, it is probable that they may have a highly complex health scenario, and that requires specialized training for our health professionals because if you know that you will see an older person, there is a high chance they may have cancer, and those who have cancer surely have a much more complex scenario that requires attention to very particular issues,” he explained.

Moreover, although men comprise 60% of the cancer population, most of them don’t get early diagnostic tests. Among men with cancer, almost 60% have prostate cancer, yet fewer than 4% had a prostate exam performed. Meanwhile, almost 25% of women had some type of cancer-detection exam performed.

As for that age group, prostate cancer was the most prevalent (5.8%), followed by colon and rectal cancers (2.6%), and breast cancer (2.3%).

Carrión Baralt explained that the university’s agreement with commercial insurers to have access to that information was coordinated with the Health Department. The law authorizes the agency to request the data; however, it is the first time local insurance companies provide the information.

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“There were some that didn’t provide data. For example, APS didn’t offer data regarding mental health–which would have been very interesting to see the impact of cancer on depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders–but unfortunately, we don’t have that information,” he said.

“It is  great step, and we must congratulate insurance companies for taking that first step, and one of the things we must understand is that the worst problem is the one that one doesn’t know of. If we don’t know the magnitude, the variants, the breadth, the depth breadth of a problem, it is impossible to develop a strategy to address the problem adequately,” the doctor added.

Carrión Baralt explained that they can’t compare data to shed light on a possible increase in people affected by cancer, but said the Health Department is currently working on obtaining the same information, but from 2014. With it, they might identify patterns and tendencies in the population.

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