OWN IT: Cystic Fibrosis Survival Rates in the United States vs. Canada

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “the median age of survival [is] 10 years higher [for CF patients] in Canada than the United States.”

If you’re wrapped up in the world of cystic fibrosis news like I am then you’ve probably seen this study floating around the Internet for the past 18 hours.

If not, I’m here to enlighten you and offer a few thoughts while you’re snowed in, because I’m an American living with cystic fibrosis who apparently has 10 less years to live (that’s a joke… relax).

From CNN:
For the most recent years, 2009 through 2013, the median age of survival [for CF patients] has been 50.9 years in Canada, compared with just 40.6 years in the US. In particular, rates of Canadian males dying at older ages grew significantly faster than those of US males, while no differences in rates were seen among females.
This is a pretty dramatic conclusion, and for the record, I f*cking love Canada – the birthplace of hockey and curling (side note: if you ever get the chance to visit Quebec City, definitely go for it, but brush up on your français before heading north) – but I also want remind you how I feel about Life Expectancy in CF:

…the life expectancy stat and the positive way that it is purported to be used, neglects to take into account the people living with cystic fibrosis.
Needless to say this has peaked my interest. I’m really aiming to read between the lines here.

But enough of me…. Dr. Anne Stephenson of the study says:

“The reasons for the survival gap is definitely multifactorial and not based on one factor alone…We hypothesize that three factors may be playing a role in the survival gap: lung transplantation; differences in the two health care systems; the differential approach to nutrition in the 1970s that started first in Canada,”
Essentially the Canadian approach to treating CF has been different from the American school of thought for quite awhile.

In Canada people with CF have an easier path to the transplant because of the way we (Americans) list people for Lung Transplant. It’s a little complex, but the study basically suggests that when the US switched to it’s current way of listing patients for transplant in 2005, the survival margin between Canadian and US patients grew.

Canadians with CF also have a different path to health insurance. I don’t aim to politicize this, but I do think that people with cystic fibrosis, or any genetic ailment for that matter, have an inherent right to healthcare. It’s not like people with CF have smoked cigarettes for their entire lives and are now suddenly paying for it. We were born without a choice in the matter. In Canada, that right to healthcare for people with CF is guaranteed, and it’s certainly difficult to overlook the impact that may have.

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