Colorectal Cancer Treatment Creates Financial Hardship

Cost of medication causes financial burden for nearly two-thirds of patients.

Cost of medication causes financial burden for nearly two-thirds of patients.

In addition to the physical and mental toll faced by colorectal cancer patients, the financial toll creates a significant burden for a large proportion of patients as well.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that nearly two-thirds of colorectal cancer patients suffer some level of financial hardship from the cost of treatment. The financial burden was found to be greatest for patients treated with chemotherapy and for younger patients working low-wage jobs.

"The financial burden was higher in patients who received chemotherapy -- a potentially lifesaving treatment,” lead study author Christine M. Veenstra, MD, MSHP, said in a press release. “To ensure that patients can receive all recommended care, we need to recognize the financial burden of cancer and identify patients at risk for financial concerns. We found that younger, working low-income patients were especially likely to face financial burden. These are people who may not be able to afford to take time off from their jobs to get recommended cancer care, including chemotherapy."

The study, which was published in the journal Medical Care, surveyed 956 patients treated for stage 3 colorectal cancer. For these patients, chemotherapy, which is routinely recommended after surgery, has been found to improve the chance for survival by up to 20%.

As part of the survey, patients were asked whether they had used funds from their savings, borrowed money, skipped bill payments, or reduced spending on items such as food, clothing, or recreational activities due to the cost of treatment.

Of the patients surveyed, 38% did not indicate a financial burden from treatment. In the remaining 62% of patients, 29% indicated 1 to 2 areas of burden, 23% indicated 3 to 4 areas of burden, and 9% indicated 5 or more areas of burden.

Almost half of the patients indicated that they had to reduce expenses in general due to the cost of cancer treatment. Patients who received treatment with chemotherapy were significantly more likely to select each area of financial burden, the study noted.

"It's important to note that this financial burden is experienced on top of all that patients are going through with the cancer itself. The financial burden hits hard," said senior study author Arden M. Morris, MD, MPH, in a press release.

To reduce the hardship on patients, researchers recommend policy changes to provide job support measures, including mandatory paid sick leave or disability benefits, in addition to support for copays, parking, and transportation.

"It's important to start the dialog between patients and doctors,” Dr. Morris said. “Some financial supports currently exist that may benefit patients if they're aware. It may not be enough to fully cover their financial burden, but it could help.”