Nearly 1/3 Of Cancer Survivors Face Financial Burden After Diagnosis, Treatment

Image courtesy of Scott Lynch

The cheery optimists on cable TV might have you believe that a cancer diagnosis will transform your average mild-mannered American into an exceedingly wealthy and lethal drug kingpin in a matter of months, but a new study shows that for many cancer survivors, the disease puts a significant burden on their finances — and that these money problems can have further negative impact on their health and well being.

For a report published in the journal Cancer (you don’t subscribe to it for the crossword), researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Pharmacy looked at survey data for nearly 20 million cancer survivors and found that around 29% of them claimed to have become financially burdened in the wake of being diagnosed or treated for their disease.

More than one-fifth (21%) of all surveyed survivors said they were now worried about their ability to pay large medical bills, with more than half of those people (11.5% of all survivors) actually unable to cover the cost of medical care visits.

One-in-thirteen (7.6%) said they had to borrow money or go into debt to cover costs, with 1.5% declaring bankruptcy. While that might seem like a small percentage, when you’re talking about a survey of 19.6 million people, that means nearly 300,000 of those survivors ended up in bankruptcy after learning they had cancer.

The researchers found that survivors burdened with financial concerns faced a higher risk for depressed mood and psychological distress, and were more likely to worry about cancer recurrence when compared with cancer survivors who were not facing money troubles.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the likelihood of depression and distress — along with decreasing quality of life — increased among survivors with multiple financial concerns.

“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,” explains Dr. Norman Carroll, co-author of the report. “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.”

The authors suggest that oncologists may be unwittingly adding to patients’ problems by not offering less-expensive, but similarly effective, treatments to their patients.

Co-Author Hrishikesh Kale also says it’s important for patients and their loved ones to educate themselves about what their insurance covers, and seek out organizations that provide financial assistance to those who need it.

“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,” notes Kale.