Surviving Cancer Creates Significant Financial Burden

Quality of life and overall health concerns plague patients who survive cancer.

Approximately 29% of cancer survivors in the United States are left with a financial burden after their diagnosis and treatment.

Researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy looked at data on 19.6 million cancer survivors from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Survivors with financial burden were categorized in 4 parts: declaration of bankruptcy or borrowing of money; worrying about paying expensive medical bills; inability to cover the cost of medical care visits; or other financial sacrifices.

The results of the study, published in Cancer, found that 21% of patients worried about having to pay expensive medical bills; 11.5% were unable to cover the cost of medical care visits, 7.6% reported going into debt or having to borrow money; 1.5% declared bankruptcy; and 8.6% reported other financial sacrifices.

Cancer survivors having financial troubles were found to have lower physical and mental health that was related to their quality of life. They also had a higher risk for depression and psychological distress and were more likely to worry about cancer recurrence compared with cancer survivors who did not have financial issues.

Furthermore, the more financial problems reported showed a greater drop in the quality of life, which puts them at risk for psychological distress, depression, and increased concerns about cancer recurrence.

Additionally, a declaration of bankruptcy was associated with a 20% to 25% reduction in quality of life. Cancer survivors who were worried about paying expensive medical bills were associated with a reduction of 6% to 8% in quality of life.

“Our results suggest that policies and practices that minimize cancer patients' out-of-pocket costs can improve survivors' health-related quality of life and psychological health,” said researcher Norman Carroll, PhD. “Reducing the financial burden of cancer care requires integrated efforts, and the study findings are useful for survivorship care programs, oncologists, payers, pharmaceutical companies, and patients and their family members.”

Researchers also stress that oncologists should look for treatments that are low in price, but are equally as effective, to discuss these treatment costs with patients and involve them in decision making for therapy options.

“Also, cancer patients and family members should educate themselves regarding survivorship issues, coverage and benefit design of their health plans, and organizations that provide financial assistance,” said Hrishikesh Kale, MS. “Cancer survivorship care programs can identify survivors with the greatest financial burden and focus on helping them cope with psychological stress, anxiety, and depression throughout their journey with cancer.”