BACKGROUND: Concern is growing about inequality in cancer treatment, and a call has been made for more knowledge of the underlying causes of this inequality. Studies show that patients with low socioeconomic status in general face a greater risk of inequality than patients with a high socioeconomic status.
AIM: The aim of the present study was to uncover how institutional factors may exacerbate inequality in cancer treatment for patients with low socioeconomic status exemplified by patients with head and neck cancer, most of whom have low socioeconomic status.
METHOD: Inspired by Fairclough, we undertook a critical discourse analysis investigating the treatment pathway of patients with head and neck cancer on the basis of policy papers.
RESULTS: These papers, which we conceived as formative instruments, harboured a discourse of efficiency and a discourse of participation, together carving out an effective cancer treatment pathway provided patients act in line with the recommendations.
DISCUSSION: The discourses of efficiency and participation are not unfamiliar in health care, and prior research shows that they may pose difficulties for patients with low socioeconomic status.
CONCLUSION: The discoursal framing of head and neck cancer treatment may exacerbate inequality because most patients with a low socioeconomic status fail to comprehend and act in accordance with these discourses.