Breast Cancer Survivors with Complications
Experience Related Out-Of-Pocket Expenses Years after Diagnosis

Alison Walsh
Breast Cancer Survivors with Complications

A study looks at the out-of-pocket cost of having breast-cancer-related lymphedema

Cancer treatment is more effective than ever, which is great news for the approximately 38% of men and women who will be diagnosed with cancer sometime in their lifetime.1 But, these advances come with a high price tag. Unfortunately, and despite many having health insurance, approximately 30% of cancer survivors will experience financial hardship, also known as financial toxicity.2

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to draw attention to the financial burden of having breast cancer. A recently published study in Support Care Cancer5 took a deeper look at the long-term out-of-pocket costs of having breast cancer for women who experienced a relatively common complication of breast cancer, called lymphedema.

Breast-cancer related lymphedema

Swelling that develops as a result of breast cancer surgery and/or radiation in the hand, arm, breast or torso is called lymphedema, and it can occur months or even years after breast cancer treatment. Often the condition catches women by surprise, as their initial focus in the disease treatment was beating the cancer-not necessarily of any long term effects. Approximately one third of breast cancer survivors will develop lymphedema,3 and it can have a big impact on productivity and associated out-of-pocket costs.

Lymphedema and disability

Women experiencing breast-cancer related lymphedema must take special care to protect the affected area from infection and from excessive use while they’re symptomatic, which can be anywhere from six weeks to two months. This can make it very difficult to carry out common work related tasks for women who don’t have a desk job.  Any type of lifting, repetitive motion or activities that expose the affected areas to possible infection must be avoided. This can make it impossible for many women to do their jobs, putting them at risk of losing their pay checks.4

Financial effects study

The study mentioned above is the first ever study taking a look at the long term financial effects of having breast-cancer related lymphedema. It found that at an average of 12 years after a breast cancer diagnosis, related out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer survivors without lymphedema, including productivity losses, was $2792 per year, while the related out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer survivors with lymphedema and including productivity losses were $3,325. 5

Cancer expenses

This study shows that breast cancer survivors can expect long-term out of pocket expenses related to the disease, and even more so if they experience lymphedema. $2-$3,000 a year may not break the bank, but over the long term it can make a dramatic difference in savings and/or discretionary spending. Luckily there are many action steps patients can take to help ease the financial burden that comes with a breast cancer-or any cancer-diagnosis, including purchasing our Cancer Protector.  Contact one of our agentstoday to learn more!


1 “Cancer Statistics.” National Cancer Institutecancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statisticslink opens in a new window.
2 “Financial Burden of Cancer.” Springboard Beyond Cancer, 4 Jan. 2018, survivorship.cancer.gov/springboard/get-support/financial-burden-cancerlink opens in a new window.
3 Norman SA, Localio AR, Potashnik SL, Torpey HAS, Kallan MJ, Weber AL, Miller LT, DeMichele A, Solin LJ (2009) Lymphedema in breast cancer survivors: incidence, degree, time course, treatment, and symptoms. J Clin Oncol 27(3):390–397
4 “Lymphedema & Your Job.” Breastcancer.orgbreastcancer.org/treatment/lymphedema/joblink opens in a new window.
5 Dean, L.T., Moss, S.L., Ransome, Y. et al. Support Care Cancer (2018). doi.org/10.1007/s00520-018-4418-4link opens in a new window