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Cancer Treatment Costs and the Financial Toxicity of Cancer Care

Cancer treatment is one of the most expensive healthcare procedures in the United States. Many times insurance coverage is not enough to cover the cost of cancer treatment. All of these financial burdens associated with cancer care are known as “financial toxicity.”

What Is Financial Toxicity?

Financial toxicity of cancer care is a term that describes the monetary impact of cancer treatment. Initially, this term was created in 2013 by researchers from Duke University.

Cancer treatment cost continues to rapidly expand, which makes receiving medical care for all types of cancer much less affordable for patients and their family members. While financial toxicity is a recent term, the problem of dealing with an ever-growing cost for cancer care isn’t new.

A variety of terms can describe the financial toxicity of cancer care, such as economic stress, financial hardship, and other challenges. However, the term financial toxicity covers all of these definitions, and it’s widely used by health care professionals.

Impact of a Cancer Diagnosis

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis doesn’t only cause financial problems but can also lead to emotional and physical stress. The combination of these issues makes it difficult for many patients to cope with these challenges. A recent study shows that cancer patients are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy compared to those not suffering from cancer.

How Many People are Impacted By Financial Toxicity of Cancer Care?

Nearly 17 million cancer survivors currently live in the United States. The number is expected to grow by 31% and reach 20.3 million by the year 2026.

More people will continue to survive their battle with cancer due to the improvement of cancer treatments. However, long-term cancer survivors often face ongoing healthcare expenses, which make it difficult to pay for cancer treatment.

The financial toxicity for young adults between the ages of 18-34 is even more widespread. Cancer patients in this age range or less likely to be employed and do not have the financial resources compared to older cancer patients. Young adults are not as likely to be insured, which further compounds the cost of receiving cancer treatment.

Additional Factors That Cause Financial Toxicity in Cancer Patients

A variety of other factors often complicate financial matters for cancer patients. A cancer patient may not be able to work due to their treatment, or a caregiver may need to take off work for a period of time.

Inadequate health insurance also makes it difficult to pay out-of-pocket costs, and many patients do not have the extra savings to cover these expenses.

Many cancer patients struggle to stay productive at work, which can result in fewer hours or even a loss of their job due to poor health. A recent study showed that cancer patients undergoing treatment miss an average of 22 more days of work compared to people without cancer.

All of these extra expenses can have long-term effects on their credit and savings for retirement. These financial challenges also create a lot of stress, which makes it even more difficult for cancer patients to avoid going into serious debt.

How Do People Pay for Cancer Treatment?

The cost of cancer treatment is often catastrophic for many patients.

Patients often resort to a variety of strategies that have a negative impact on their overall well-being. These financial decisions often have a lasting impact, even after cancer treatment is finished.

The expensive out-of-pocket costs of cancer treatment often reduce their spending on prescribed medications or limit their purchases of food and clothing.

Unfortunately, most health care providers do not have any meaningful conversations about the costs prior to beginning cancer treatment. One survey showed that only 25% of cancer patients had a complete understanding of their out-of-pocket costs, while 66% did not remember discussing the expenses before or during cancer treatment.

Many times a cancer patient will have to initiate a conversation about the costs of treatment. Poor communication often causes them to overlook less-expensive yet highly effective treatments. The final result is that most patients experience unnecessary financial stress due to a lack of communication.

These major financial challenges often create depression and anxiety within each patient. Dealing with these mental issues only makes it even more difficult to fight cancer. Financial problems can often make it challenging for a patient to follow through with their cancer treatment, which is essential if they hope to experience long-term recovery.

The financial toxicity of cancer care can often deplete savings and increasing the likelihood of having to deal with bill collectors. Even more alarming, bankruptcy due to a cancer diagnosis seems to be a risk factor for early death.

How to Find Help Paying Cancer Medical Bills

The average cost of cancer treatment continues to skyrocket, which makes it difficult to find help with finances when you have cancer.

One way to reduce the financial toxicity of cancer care is to minimize the out-of-pocket expenses for cancer treatment. An effective way to find help paying cancer medical bills is to ensure you have adequate health insurance.

Also, cancer patients need to ensure their income isn’t dramatically reduced because they are forced to work less or stop working for a period of time.

Using paid family leave benefits and disability insurance can play a key role in reducing the negative impact of dealing with financial toxicity.