Cost of Cancer Care: How High Is Your Financial Toxicity Risk?

The terms financial toxicity and financial distress describe how the cost of cancer treatment can cause financial problems for a patient. Out-of-pocket costs are a leading example, which is what you pay to receive medical care. These out-of-pocket costs include:

  • Copayments. The amount of money you pay for every healthcare service, such as a doctor’s appointment or medical prescription.
  • Deductibles. The amount you spend on medical care and services before your insurance plan starts to pay. 
  • Coinsurance. Percentage of costs you pay for cancer care that your health insurance covers after you have settled your deductible. For example, you pay 30 percent and your insurance covers 70 percent of your medical expenses.

These costs can include your doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, procedures, outpatient services, and prescription drugs.

Your Household Income and Levels of Financial Toxicity

Several factors in your household may affect your likelihood of experiencing financial toxicity during cancer treatment. These factors include:

  • Whether you make the most money in your household
  • How much money your other household members make
  • How cancer and its treatment impair your ability to work
  • How much debt you had before getting a cancer diagnosis
  • Whether you have health insurance and what they cover
  • Your assets
  • Costs related to your disease

In addition, you and your family members may have the following problems as a result of your cancer diagnosis:

  • Less income
  • Reduced assets
  • Difficulty paying for household expenses, including food and bills
  • Debt due to the cost of your cancer treatment
  • Bankruptcy

The National Cancer Institute noted that patients who come from lower-income households have a much higher risk of financial distress than patients from higher-income families. Losing primary sources of income is also a significant risk factor for debt and bankruptcy.

Risk Factors Associated with Financial Toxicity

The specific type of cancer you have, how severe your symptoms are, as well as the treatment you get can affect your risk of financial toxicity. In most cases, patients with the following types of malignant disease have an increased risk of financial toxicity:

  • Late- or advanced-stage cancer
  • Cancer with a poor prognosis or survival rate
  • Having more than one type of cancer
  • Suffering from a chronic disease (such as diabetes or heart disease) in addition to cancer
  • Recurrent cancer

These are risk factors related to financial distress partly because your cancer and treatment may prevent you from continuing or having a job.

Moreover, if you undergo conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, you are more likely to have higher out-of-pocket costs and experience financial toxicity than patients who opt for non-invasive and more holistic methods.

The Link Between Your Age and Risk of Financial Toxicity

If you are below the age of 30, a cancer diagnosis increases your risk of financial toxicity. If you are a younger cancer patient, you may encounter financial toxicity because of the following:

  • A lack of savings
  • Limited or no assets
  • Having other financial obligations, such as raising your children
  • Not having health insurance

Younger cancer patients and survivors also have an increased risk for bankruptcy, compared to older cancer patients and survivors who may be more financially stable. 

Childhood cancer survivors are sometimes more susceptible to having financial problems, too. Receiving a cancer diagnosis during childhood may cause learning disabilities, disrupt education, and overall limit job opportunities. These young survivors tend to have higher out-of-pocket costs than their siblings because of the risk of second cancers and the lasting effects of some orthodox cancer treatments.

Effects of Financial Toxicity on Cancer Patients

Financial distress influences cancer patients in many unfortunate ways.

  1. Patients may not follow their doctor’s prescriptions to save money.

Some cancer patients have reported taking less medicine or skipping their medication entirely than prescribed to save money. Patients have likewise reported not filling a prescription due to the high costs.

  1. Patients who suffer from financial toxicity or financial distress may have a lower quality of life.

Patients who have financial distress may have a lower quality of life, more severe symptoms, and more pain. A 2017 study disclosed that some cancer patients felt financial toxicity was more difficult than physical, social, emotional, or family distress.

Aside from a lower quality of life, cancer patients who have financial toxicity are often expected to report the following:

  • Deteriorating physical health
  • Worrying that their cancer may recur or come back
  • Poor mental health, including feeling anxious and depressed
  • Feeling unsatisfied in relationships or other social activities
  1. Patients may not be able to find work or return to their previous job.

Cancer patients — especially those who come from lower-income households or had contracted the disease at a younger age — may endure the following:

  • Loss of a job
  • Trouble returning to work
  • Change in job status or industry, including switching to part-time jobs or taking an unnecessary, extended leave
  • Earn less money or income
  • General loss of motivation and productivity
  1. Financial toxicity may result in further financial struggles, such as debt and bankruptcy.

Some cancer survivors may report these problems related to financial toxicity:

  • Worrying about paying medical bills related to cancer
  • Being in debt
  • Selling assets and depleting savings, which may lead to filing for bankruptcy

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, cancer patients and survivors who file for bankruptcy have a higher risk of early mortality than those who do not file for bankruptcy.

How to Reduce Financial Toxicity

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce financial toxicity. These include:

  • For patients, consider meeting with a financial advisor who can teach you about health insurance plans or cost-saving methods for treatments, whether conventional or holistic.
  • For hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations, consider posting your prices to avoid blindsiding cancer patients.
  • For primary care providers, oncologists, and other medical professionals, consider introducing value-based pricing for cancer patients to choose lower out-of-pocket costs for higher-value treatments.
  • For health insurance carriers, consider reforming your health insurance by passing policies that aid cancer patients.

See How Cancer Patients Can Better Manage Finances for more helpful information on ways to manage the costs of your cancer care. 

For alternatives to harmful cancer treatments, call New Hope Unlimited now at 480-757-6573. Our non-invasive, holistic therapies may work not better with your current financial status and prevent long-term side effects.



National Cancer Institute

National Center for Biotechnology Information

American Cancer Society

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