Common side effects of cancer treatment include nausea, hair loss, pain, and fatigue. However, the potential impact of the financial costs of care on the patient and their family—also referred to as financial toxicity—is a greatly under-appreciated, hidden “side-effect” that sets-in at the worst possible time. According to a recent study, nearly 80% of women experience financial stress during breast cancer treatment.
Fortunately, there are many resources dedicated to making cancer treatment more affordable. Here are some helpful tips for coping and managing financial stress during and after a cancer diagnosis:
Say “yes” if friends or family offer to help. They can help you with paperwork, analyzing and paying bills, checking out your insurance, and gathering information about payment plans. If possible, bring someone who is helping you with your financial responsibilities, and have them ask lots of questions. Also, remember, family and friends often want to help, but often don’t know exactly how. Consider delegating anything you feel comfortable delegating, even in part, to take some of the weight off your shoulders.
There are many organizations that can help with expenses related to medical treatment, food, dental care, everyday living, legal resources, and more. Reach out to your HR department at work, or a hospital financial adviser for insight on how to get the most out of your insurance, including help with deductibles and co-pays.
Many national and local breast cancer organizations provide financial assistance to patients (and their families) to help decrease financial stress during breast cancer treatment. Ask your health care team if they have any recommendations. Other patients you meet can also be a very valuable resource for information on organizations they have found helpful themselves.
It’s important to be aware of upfront and out-of-pocket costs when discussing treatment options with your medical team. Your team may be a able to tailor your treatment in a more cost-effective way without negatively impacting your care. Knowing more about the costs that lie ahead is also very important so you can plan and budget accordingly.
There are many reputable organizations that can help you and your family after a breast cancer diagnosis. To access them, download the Breast Advocate App free here. Click on “Knowledge Center” and then “Resources”. There you will find links to organizations that can provide assistance in many ways, including financial:
Please also let us know of any organizations that you have found helpful. We are constantly adding reputable resources and would love to hear your recommendations!
The reality of financial strain for breast cancer patients is not new news. A recent study suggests the financial toxicity associated with living with metastatic breast cancer may more than double over the next decade.
A study from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention predicts that annual costs associated with metastatic breast cancer among United States women will be close to $152.4 billion in 2030. The large increase is due to a rise in the estimated cases of metastatic disease among younger women.
The study used the most recent U.S. census data as well as statistics from the National Cancer Institute to estimate how the number of women affected by metastatic breast cancer will change by 2030. Their model estimates a 54.8% increase in metastatic breast cancer diagnoses among women aged 18-64. This would translate to a rise in cases from 158,997 women living with the disease in 2015, to 246,194 in 2030. When combining this estimated data with the predicted annual cost of treatment, the future annual cost of metastatic breast cancer could reach $152.4 billion in 2030.
The study authors are hopeful that these statistics will promote more funding for early detection campaigns, access to care, and new treatments to help cure breast cancer.
Education and access to care are vital to early detection and prompt treatment. There are also many lifestyle factors that patients can consider to reduce their overall risk for developing breast cancer:
As always, it is always very important to follow up regularly with your healthcare team and schedule your annual breast cancer screening appointments as recommended.
One in every 8 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Treatment options, new drugs, surgical advances and breast reconstruction options are all commonly discussed within the breast cancer community. A topic that is not discussed enough is the financial burden, or ‘financial toxicity’ that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis. Financial toxicity is defined as the impact of direct and indirect health care costs that lead to significant financial burden for patients and their caregivers, resulting in increased psychosocial distress, diminished patient outcomes, and a poorer quality of life.
Breast cancer treatment plans can consist of a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery to remove the cancer (lumpectomy or mastectomy), and breast reconstruction. Ideally, patients work closely with their medical team using the process of shared decision-making to determine which plan best fits their individual diagnosis, situation, preferences and goals. However, for many patients, treatment decisions are influenced not by their medical team’s recommendations, but more by the associated costs.
In a published survey of over 600 women, 28% admitted the cost of treatment influenced their treatment decisions. 35% also reported having financial hardships following the completion on their breast cancer treatments. 78% of responders never even discussed costs with their cancer team. These findings likely underestimate the severity of financial toxicity associated with breast cancer due to the lack of diversity within the survey.
A recent analysis of published studies found that few cancer survivors receive financial information and support from healthcare facilities during their initial treatment, despite the widespread impact of cancer-related costs on patients’ health and quality of life.
It should not be assumed that the financial hardship caused following a cancer diagnosis is limited to those without insurance. Even with insurance, high out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer patients can include copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance responsibilities. Cancer treatment can also affect individuals and their care taker’s ability to work, reducing household incomes. For patients who must travel long distances for their cancer care, travel related costs (such as gas, hotel, food, flights) can also add up very quickly.
How can you reduce the financial burden of breast cancer?
1. Discuss costs with your medical team up front.
It is important when discussing treatment options with your healthcare team to be aware of up-front and out-of-pocket costs. Being prepared before beginning treatment can help you plan and budget for the additional costs.
2. Research options that may help you maximize your existing insurance.
Speaking with your HR department or a hospital financial adviser may provide insight to options available to help you get the most out of your insurance, including help with deductibles and co-pays. One such example is the Patient Advocate Foundation.
3. Reach out to non-profit organizations.
There are many national and local breast cancer organizations providing financial assistance to patients (and their families) in need. To find organizations in your area, talk with your medical team and check out the financial assistance tab in the Resources section within the Breast Advocate App – download it here.