Study: VA Hospitals Increase Survival Rates of Older Cancer Patients

Female doctor treating an older man

Older cancer patients who receive treatment at veterans’ hospitals are getting equal, if not better, treatment than patients at fee-for-service Medicare hospitals, according to a new study.

The report, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, describes improved survival rates among older male cancer patients who go through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), compared to similar patients who receive treatments through Medicare.

For mesothelioma patients, who tend to be older male veterans, the results of this study may provide direction as to where the best facilities are to receive treatments.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lining of the lungs, most commonly caused by asbestos exposure. About one-third of all patients with this disease are veterans, either because they were exposed to asbestos while in the military or because they held jobs after leaving the service that exposed them to asbestos.

Because cancer treatments are often limited for older patients because of what they can tolerate physically, selecting hospitals that yield the most favorable outcomes can be a life-or-death matter for some patients.

Results from the Study

In the study, researchers analyzed older male cancer patient’s chances of surviving various cancers, based on receiving treatment at a VHA hospital or a traditional fee-for-service hospital.

The cancers that were reviewed include colon, rectal, lung, lymphoma or bone marrow cancer. Patient results were monitored between 2001 and 2004.

Results showed encouraging news for the hospitals within the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Older patients with colon cancer who received treatment at the VHA survived at an average rate of four years and one month, while the same group survived three years and seven months when receiving treatment at Medicare-accepting facilities.

“It seems like the VA is doing a good job of taking care of veterans, which is obviously a good story,” said Mary Beth Landrum, the lead author of the study.

Lung cancer patients observed similar results.

Patients who were diagnosed with lung cancer and were treated by the VHA lived eight months after diagnosis, on average, while only surviving six months after diagnosis, at regular hospitals treated with Medicare.

Some believe that the study results are a testament to the various changes that were conducted throughout the VHA. Adjustments within this health system, which began in the 1990s, have resulted in the strengthening of preventative care and more coordinated efforts among organizational departments.

The Veterans Health Administration is tasked with caring for over 6 million veterans. According to a report from Reuters Health, many of veterans that receive care through this program tend to be African Americans and veterans from poor communities.

Veterans Should Receive the Best Care

After any amount of service that was dedicated to their nation, veterans of all military branches deserve the highest level of care and treatment. Unfortunately, some veterans are affected in disproportionate ways because of external factors.

Navy veterans often face unique health challenges because many of the environmental hazards that they were exposed to throughout their career, including asbestos and other toxins.

Working aboard naval ships, which were known for widespread use of asbestos, thousands of navy veterans have been affected by asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural plaques and others.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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