One-fifth of U.S. counties are designated persistent child poverty counties (≥20% of children in poverty since 1980). The association between a persistent child poverty environment and mortality in children with cancer is unknown.
Our cohort includes 2,089 children with cancer (2000–2016) in Alabama. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazards modeling (adjusted for sociodemographics/clinical characteristics) to assess mortality by persistent child poverty designation at 1, 5, and 10 years from diagnosis. Distance to treatment was subsequently explored.
Forty-two percent of the cohort lived in a persistent child poverty county; they were more likely to be African American (P < 0.0001), have public/no insurance (P = 0.0009), and live >100 miles to treatment (P < 0.0001). Children in persistent child poverty counties were 30% more likely to die by 5 years [95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.06–1.59; P = 0.012]. Distance (per 20-mile increase) to treatment was associated with a 9% increased mortality risk (P < 0.0001). Children with both exposures (distance >100 miles and persistent child poverty) faced the highest mortality risk at 5 years (HR = 1.80; 95% CI = 1.39–2.33; P < 0.0001). In subanalysis, children exposed to persistent child poverty were at higher risk for cancer-related mortality. However, the risk of health-related mortality did not differ.
Among children with cancer from the Deep South, persistent child poverty was a prevalent exposure associated with inferior overall survival. Distance to treatment was independently associated with inferior survival. Children with both exposures had the highest risk of mortality.
Persistent child poverty is associated with inferior survival among children with cancer; mechanisms underlying this disparity warrant investigation.
See related commentary by Orjuela-Grimm and Beauchemin, p. 295