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Study: Inflation, gas prices may force some patients not to seek optimal treatment

Jun 13, 2023

LCRP Medical Director Dr. Leonard Henry explains how we try to prevent economic barriers to cancer care

As a surgical oncologist, Dr. Leonard Henry hears it quite often, patients complaining about gas prices and having to drive all over the place to get cancer care.

It raised the question to Dr. Henry: Are gas prices, as well as other of the country’s economic factors, potential barriers to treatment? So he teamed up with four other surgeons from across the country and a professor at Notre Dame to do the research.

The group looked at more than 1,780,000 cases from 2004 to 2017 through the National Cancer Database, which accounts for about 70 percent of all cancer cases in America, says Dr. Henry, who also serves as the medical director for the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion.

They then examined the impact of economic measures such as unemployment rate, gas prices and inflation on travel distances for cancer operations; particularly regarding disadvantaged populations. What they learned was that the economic factors that were most strongly associated as barriers to cancer care included inflation and rising gas prices.

Their research was published in the Annals of Surgery Open, a large monthly journal about the field of surgery, in early 2023. One of the final conclusions, and one of the reasons to do this research, was to have literary evidence that would encourage healthcare organizations serving financially disadvantaged groups to increase patient support services during economic hardship to avoid health care disparities.

“This is a paper about cancer care delivery and how the economy may exacerbate barriers to care, particularly for patients at the margins. Generally speaking, what we found was these issues of inflation and gas prices were most impactful on groups you’d expect – lower income, lower education status, Medicaid payer, and for breast cancer patients, African-Americans,” Dr. Henry said. “The point being that when gas prices go up, it’s disadvantaged groups that are impacted the most of accessing optimal care.”

At St. Joseph’s/Candler and the LCRP, we don’t want to see that happen. We stand by our mission that, ‘Rooted in God’s love, we treat illness and promote wellness for ALL people.’

“I believe we do a lot of things presently to try to break down those barriers,” Dr. Henry says. “We are trying to do even more, and then we have to be mindful that we pay attention if we suspect those barriers are going to increase.”

One example is our nurse navigators. We have a team of nurses at the LCRP that are dedicated to helping cancer patients and their families through their entire cancer journey. That includes, for example, identifying when a patient can’t afford gas and helping them get a gas card, Dr. Henry says.

Related Article: What are nurse navigators?

We currently have nurse navigators in Savannah and at our Bluffton Campus, and we are in the process of writing a grant to have a nurse navigator for our southeast Georgia offices, Dr. Henry says.

Additionally, we have social workers on staff that can also assist cancer patients who may experience barriers to care.

Related Article: Why you might see a social worker at your hospital stay or visit

What we have really focused on is bringing cancer care to where you live. We currently have six locations outside of Savannah that offer some sort of cancer treatment, whether that’s radiation therapy, chemotherapy, lab services or simply an office to meet with your healthcare team. Those regional offices include Pembroke, Statesboro, Hinesville, Jesup and Baxley and Bluffton and Hilton Head, S.C.

“There are many things that a cancer program should be. Giving great care is just one of the many things,” Dr. Henry says. “For me and this program, we really want southeast Georgia and South Carolina to have tremendous access to holistic and patient-centered cancer care, great screening rates, promotion for a healthy lifestyle for prevention and good survivorship programs and access to a broad array of clinical trials.”

“So, it’s not just about giving great cancer care, but it’s also about reducing the burden of cancer in this corner of the world.”

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