When Is the Cost of Cancer 'Toxic'?

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Researchers develop tool to assess patients' ability to withstand financial pressuresFRIDAY, June 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A tool to assess "financial toxicity" for cancer patients -- namely, the expense, anxiety and stress of illness-related costs -- has been developed by University of Chicago Medical Center cancer specialists.

Many cancer patients face exorbitant and unpredictable treatment costs often at a time when they're less able to work, the researchers point out.

"Few physicians discuss this increasingly significant side effect with their patients," study author Dr. Jonas de Souza, a head-and-neck cancer specialist, said in a university news release. "Physicians aren't trained to do this. It makes them, as well as patients, feel uncomfortable. We aren't good at it."

According to de Souza, "a thoughtful, concise tool that could help predict a patient's risk for financial toxicity might open the lines of communication."

The team developed a brief questionnaire after discussions with 150 patients with advanced cancer, according to the study in the July issue of the journal Cancer.

For each of the 11 questions -- such as "My out-of-pocket medical expenses are more than I thought they would be" or "I am not able to meet my monthly expenses" -- patients choose from five potential responses: not at all, a little bit, somewhat, quite a bit, or very much.

The patients' answers help health care providers identify those who may require assistance such as financial counseling or referral to a support network.

"We need better ways to find out which patients are most at risk," de Souza said. "Then we can help them get financial assistance. If patients know what to expect, they may want their physicians to consider less costly medications."

The cost of cancer care in the United States is rising faster than the cost of overall health care, the researchers said. Also, the cost of new cancer drugs is increasing more rapidly than the cost of overall cancer care, they added.

Annual medical costs increase by more than $4,000 for male cancer survivors and by nearly $3,300 for female cancer survivors, according to a recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, about 30 percent of cancer survivors can't return to work or are less able to work, according to the CDC.

More information

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has more about cancer costs.

SOURCE: University of Chicago, news release, June 20, 2014

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Wed Jun 25, 2014 07:23 PM

Cancer treatments cost so much because doctors know that a cancer patient will do anything to stay alive.  My husband is on Gemzar costing $2,330.00 per infusion and Abraxane costing $7,500.00 per infusion.  His total chemotherapy costs are $10,695.00 WEEKLY.  This is insane.  When doctors can rake in money like this why would they ever want to find a cure.  If people could be cured of cancer doctors wouldn't get rich!

Wed Jun 25, 2014 07:34 PM

Thank you, thank you - this is the unspoken worry for every cancer patient!  I finished chemotherapy November 18, 2013;  after a nightmare experience of treatment overdose for breast cancer.  After changing to a new oncologist (I am not suing anyone, I'm just glad to be alive!) my treatment for breast cancer went from March of 2013 (diagnosis) to surgery, double mastectomy (May of 2013) followed by dense dose chemo (4 bi-weekly treatments of adreomycyn and cytoxin were prescribed) after the third one I ended up in the hospital because my immune system was shot.  My white counts went to 0.2.  I am alive by the grace of God, finished treatment and am now cancer free.  I lost my job when my treatment took longer than expected.  The financial burden is unbelievable.  We had insurance and savings, it is gone, thankfully my extended family helped as well as donations from Focus on the Family and Catholic Charities.  I am now (15 months later) ready to work again, but not all cancer patients are so fortunate.  Cancer patients need money, and for every huge salary that goes to the large cancer organizations, the people who are going through this would be happy to have a power bill or housing/rent payment made.  Thank you for bringing this to the light of day.  When I am caught up with my bills, I want to start a local charity where every dime goes to help cancer patients and and their families or caregivers.  Thank you for this site. 

Wed Jun 25, 2014 09:21 PM

My concern is when are insurance companies going to usurp the decision making from the patients? At what point will an insurance company decide that it is too expensive to keep a patient alive?

Fri Jul 18, 2014 01:51 AM

i know the costs are hard i,ve had throat cancer 2xs the last one even paying 20 per cent killed me i had to closeout my 401k and that didn,t put a dent in it then i tryed to pay but everything went into collection so now the bill plus thier charge so after trying for 8 yrs to pay it oss i had to do a file for bankrutcy i could never pay it off and now i am faceing it again

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