Many Women Worried About Paying for Breast Cancer Care, Feel Doctor’s Office Not Helpful

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The costs of breast cancer treatment and follow-up care can be a financial strain for a number of people and their families, even with health insurance.

Besides the cost of the treatment itself, you also may be facing extra expenses for travelling to and from a treatment center, child care while you’re having treatment, or lower income because you had to take time off from work.

A study suggests that many women are concerned about the cost of breast cancer treatment and feel their doctor’s offices aren’t helping address these concerns.

The research was published online on July 23, 2018 by the journal Cancer. Read the abstract of “Unmet Need for Clinician Engagement Regarding Financial Toxicity After Diagnosis of Breast Cancer.”

To do the study, the researchers surveyed 2,502 women who had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and 845 doctors. Of the doctors:

  • 44% were surgeons
  • 36% were medical oncologists
  • 20% were radiation oncologists

The survey asked the women about any financial worries they had related to the breast cancer diagnosis, as well as any changes in spending they had made and whether they had asked their doctors for help. The doctors were asked if they discussed paying for care with patients, as well as any concerns they had about the financial burden of breast cancer care.

The results showed that about 38% of women were at least somewhat worried about finances because of the breast cancer diagnosis.

  • 14% of the women said they lost more than 10% of their household income
  • 17% spent more than 10% of their household income on out-of-pocket medical expenses

Financial issues varied by race and ethnicity; black women and Latinas had higher rates of financial concerns:

  • 45.2% of black women cut back on money spent on food
  • 35.8% of Latinas cut back on money spent on food
  • 22.5% of Asian women cut back on money spent on food
  • 21.5% of white women cut back on money spent on food

Compared to white and Asian women, black women and Latinas also were more concerned about:

  • increasing debt from treatment
  • losing their homes
  • having utilities turned off for unpaid bills

Results from the doctors’ survey found that:

  • 50.9% of medical oncologists
  • 43.2% of radiation oncologists
  • 15.6% of surgeons

said that someone in their office often or always discusses financial issues with patients.

Still, of the women concerned about the financial burden of breast cancer care, 73% said their doctor’s office didn’t help.

“We have made a lot of progress in breast cancer treatment, which is wonderful,” said study lead author Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., deputy chair and professor of radiation oncology at Michigan Medicine. “But this study shows we are only part of the way to our goal. We must now turn our efforts to confronting the financial devastation many patients face. To cure a patient's disease at the cost of financial ruin falls short of our duty as physicians to serve. It's simply not acceptable to ignore patients' financial distress any longer.”

If the thought of paying for breast cancer treatment and follow-up care seems overwhelming, know that there are resources available to help you. Don’t panic, and don’t skip any treatments or doctor’s visits.

While many women in this study felt their doctor’s offices weren’t helpful, many doctors keep lists of organizations that offer financial assistance for breast cancer medicines and care, as well as local organizations that offer financial assistance for practical needs such as transportation, food, and child care. Many pharmaceutical companies have set up special funds to help pay for the cost of their medicines.

For much more information and links to resources, visit the Breastcancer.org Paying for Your Care pages.

Discuss your financial concerns with others in the Breastcancer.org Discussion Board forum Employment, Insurance, and Other Financial Issues.


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