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Cancer-related financial burden can keep survivors from getting the care that they need, yet how this burden affects mental and physical help is still unknown. A recent study found that almost one-third of cancer survivors report having financial burden; those most likely to be affected were under age 65, female, members of racial or ethnic minority groups, and people who lack access to adequate insurance. (5/17/16)
How financial burden affects the quality of life of cancer survivors.
Financial burden from a cancer diagnosis and treatment has many consequences. We know that in some cases, it keeps survivors from the medical care they need, including missed follow-up visits, and potentially life-saving medications. But research is scarce on how financial burden affects a survivor’s physical and emotional quality of life.
This study indicates that cancer survivors with financial burden are more likely to have a lower overall quality of life and reduced physical and mental/emotional health. According to the study authors, “Decreasing the financial burden of cancer is a complex problem that requires integrated efforts from health care systems, patients, and providers.” Patients who have financial trouble should discuss this with their health care providers.
The same article was also covered by Medical Xpress
Medical News Today
Oncology Nurse Advisor
Multiple research groups have looked at how much patients spend related to cancer. One group observed that lost income and out-of-pocket care expenses cost breast cancer patients an average of $1,455 per month. Another group found that the average cancer patient had estimated out–of-pocket costs of about $4,727 per year. Previous studies have noted that 12% of all breast cancer patients are in debt four years after their diagnosis.
What remains unknown is how these financial problems affect the physical and mental health of cancer survivors. In March of 2016, Hrishikesh Kale and Norman Carroll from the Virginia Commonwealth University studied the quality of life of cancer survivors who were experiencing financial burden.
The study population represented 19.6 million cancer survivors through the 2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). The majority of this population was non-Hispanic white females who were diagnosed with cancer before age 65. This population included all cancers, but notably, 17% had breast cancer.
The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data does not include information about the cancer stage, severity, or treatment used, so researchers could not control for these factors. Nor could they control for psychiatric illness that preceded a cancer diagnosis. This is a limitation, because if cancer survivors had a history of psychiatric illness before their diagnoses, the patient depression found in this study cannot be attributed to financial burden. Finally, because patients self-reported information through surveys, some information may have been incorrect (for example, exaggerations, omission of critical information, or simply forgetting details).
This study suggests that cancer-related financial burden negatively affects the quality of survivors’ mental and physical health. Cancer survivors who experience financial burden should seek help—such as access to patient assistance programs and/or generic drugs, assistance with insurance appeals, and referral to organizations that may help provide financial assistance and/or support in navigating the health care and health insurance systems.
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Arozullah AM, Calhoun EA, Wolf M, et al. “The financial burden of cancer: estimates from a study of insured women with breast cancer.” J Support Oncol. 2004 May/June; 2:271-78.
Davidoff AJ, Erten M, Shaffer T, et al. “Out-of-pocket health care expenditure burden for Medicare beneficiaries with cancer.” Cancer. 2013 Mar 15; 119(6): 1257-65.
Kale HP and Carroll NV. “Self-Reported Financial Burden of Cancer Care and its Effect on Physical and Mental Health-Related Quality of Life Among U.S. Cancer Survivors.” Cancer. Published online first on March 14, 2016.
FORCE Information: Paying for Cancer Treatment
FORCE Information: Health Insurance Appeals
Be Empowered Webinar: Hereditary Cancer, Insurance, and Your Legal Rights (2015)