Cancer's Financial Burden Tied to Poorer Survival
Economic stress may force patients to forgo vital treatments, experts say
By Steven Reinberg
TUESDAY, Jan. 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The staggering cost of cancer care forces many patients to file for bankruptcy, and that financial stress may play a role in cutting their lives short, new research suggests.
In fact, patients suffering from colon, prostate or thyroid cancers who went broke had almost 80 percent higher odds of dying during the study period compared with similar patients who remained financially sound, the researchers said.
"Bankruptcy, for reasons that we don't know, is a serious threat to survival for cancer patients," said lead researcher Dr. Scott Ramsey, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
While the study found a link between financial strain and cancer death, the research wasn't designed to prove a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between these factors.
Still, medical costs are one of the most common reasons why people go bankrupt, Ramsey said. "We think that what happens is that when people are diagnosed, they had to leave their job, use up all their savings, go into debt and at some point the debt was overwhelming," he explained.
When patients go bankrupt, they may stop getting care or stop their treatment early, or they don't go for recommended treatment, he said. The link between bankruptcy and dying "is probably a failure to get necessary care," Ramsey said.
In addition, the stress of bankruptcy on top of cancer may also play a role, he suggested.
Patients with financial pressures should ask their doctor to consider cost of treatment options, Ramsey said. "Many of the treatments that are recommended equally can vary 10 or 100 times in price," he said. "Choosing a therapy that's less expensive might be better because the patient may be able to complete it."
For example, there are five recommended treatments for stomach cancer. "The least expensive treatment costs $800, the most expensive treatment costs $57,000," he said.
In addition, patients can forgo some suggested treatments that are expensive but not vital, such as high-cost scans and drugs used to treat certain side effects of chemotherapy, Ramsey said.