One in three cancer patients experiences a significant financial burden due to the cost of cancer medication, according to new research being presented at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting yesterday in Hobart.
The study also found around two-thirds of cancer patients who had been working when diagnosed experienced a change in their employment and found themselves on a lower income following a cancer diagnosis, further highlighting the financial stress that cancer patients endure.
On average, patients who had experienced a drop in their wages found themselves earning half of what they had prior to their diagnosis. Those who had experienced a drop in income since being diagnosed were also four times more likely to say they were under heavy or extreme financial hardship.
Associate Professor Christine Paul, from the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute, who is presenting the research, said Australians who hadn’t experienced cancer first hand might find the results surprising.
“There is an assumption living in Australia that because we have a good health system, when you get sick you aren’t at financial disadvantage – but people who have been diagnosed with cancer know that this isn’t necessarily the case,” Professor Paul said.
“As well as hefty medication bills, there is often the complication of not being able to work and earn your usual income. Often cancer strikes when we are middle aged and expecting to be earning a full income – this change in circumstances puts patients under a lot of stress and impacts their psychological wellbeing.”
A/Professor Paul said their stretched financial situation also impacted how cancer patients thought through decisions about treatment.
“When asked how their finances might impact their decisions about treatment, the most common factors were the cost of travelling to and from treatment and loss of income.”
Despite the findings, Professor Paul said that relatively few cancer patients changed their treatment plans as a result of financial stress.
“Around 70 per cent of those who had been financially impacted by their diagnosis said that it made their decisions about treatment difficult, but did not ultimately change what treatment they decided to undergo.”
The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and conducted with input from Cancer Council NSW.