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6 Ways a Cancer Diagnosis Can Derail Patients' Finances

If there is any good news about cancer, it’s that the overall cancer death rate in the United States is declining. And, it's also great that  incidents of cancer are decreasing for men, however they are remaining steady for women.1  

The bad news? Cancer is one of the costliest conditions to treat in the United States.  The total associated personal cost of a cancer diagnosis is higher than ever.2

  • According to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), 39% of cancer patients experienced higher than expected financial burden from cancer care costs, averaging $703 per month out of pocket.3
  • A large survey by LIVESTRONG showed that approximately 1/3 of cancer survivors had gone into debt and 3% had filed for bankrupty.4

Improved, cutting-edge treatment has dramatically increased the cost of saving patients from cancer. Also, as cancer treatment becomes more complex and more effective, people are living with the disease longer and the associated costs of living with cancer can add up quickly.5

The cost of having cancer extends well beyond what major medical insurance covers:

1-Treatment and visit costs not covered by insurance (deductibles and co-pays)

The vast majority of major medical plans may only cover a percentage of doctor visits, hospitalizations, medical procedures and medications. The amount the patient owes adds up quickly, since most of these treatments are extremely expensive. The out of pocket cost of cancer drugs can be astronomical.6

2-Loss of income

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)link opens in a new window mandates that certain employers provide employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a one-year period to seek healthcare treatment. The key word here is unpaid. So, while the law may protect a patient’s job, their pay is not guaranteed. If a cancer diagnosis requires the patient to miss work, the lost income will pack a punch. Additionally, FMLA does not cover smaller companies and if the patient requires more than 12 weeks off, his or her employment may be at risk regardless of company size.

3-Travel costs

Patients battling cancer may have to travel great distances regularly for their treatment. Even for shorter distances, the costs of transportation, meals away from home, hours away from work, babysitting, parking, and lodging can all take a toll on the budget.

4-Professional costs

Cancer patients may need to update their will, consult their lawyer to learn about employment laws, or need extra time with their certified public accountant (CPA) to figure out how their medical expenses affect their income taxes. None of these professional services are inexpensive and the bills can become overwhelming.

5-At-home caregiving

Cancer treatments can leave patients feeling sick and weak. Even though patients are at home, they may need extra nursing assistance, help with household chores, grocery delivery, child care and/or pet care. Many times this can fall "informally" on a family member, friend or relative and can cause additional financial strain or stress on the caretaker as well. 

6-Help around the home

People undergoing treatment for cancer often cannot keep up with the normal routine of taking care of the family and home.  They will need help cooking, cleaning, taking care of children and pets and shopping.  All these can add up to be a significant cost. 

Easing the financial burden

This list only names a few of the added expenses that come along with a cancer diagnosis. No one should have to deal with the double stress of keeping up with finances and fighting cancer alone. 

  • Learn how our Cancer Protector could help if you are diagnosed with a treated cancer. 

Cancer patients are not alone, and there are many wonderful resources to help.  In our next post,we will offer some practical suggestions and ideas on how to ease the financial burden.

1 Annual Report to the Nation. (n.d.). Retrieved from opens in a new window
2 Financial Burden of Cancer Care. (n.d.). Retrieved from opens in a new window
3 Out-of-Pocket Costs, Financial Distress, and Underinsurance in Cancer CareChino, Fumiko, MD, Peppercorn, Jeffrey M., MDMPH, Rushing, Christel, MS, Kamal, Arif H., MDMHS, Altomare, Ivy, MD, Samsa, Greg, PhD, Zafar, S. Yousuf, MDMHS JAMA Oncology 3 : 1582-1584 , 2017-11-01.
4 For Working-Age Cancer Survivors, Medical Debt And Bankruptcy Create Financial Hardships, Banegas, Matthew P., Guy, Gery P., Moor, Janet S., et al Health Affairs, Project HOPE Jan 1, 2016
5 American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2015
6 Szabo, Liz. “As Drug Costs Soar, People Delay Or Skip Cancer Treatments.” NPR, NPR, 15 Mar. 2017, opens in a new window