One in Three Cancer Patients Stretched by Treatment Cost

Nov 19 2015

Associate Professor Christine Paul reveals the financial cost of cancer

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.”

Key findings

  • One third (33%) of patients reported experiencing moderate or heavy financial burden in the three months prior due to prescribed medicines.
  • 66% of patients indicated a change in their employment following their diagnosis.
  • 63% of patients who had been employed at diagnosis reported a reduced income since being diagnosed with cancer.
  • The most common financial factors influencing treatment decision making were the cost of travelling to and from treatment (15%) and loss of income (14%).
  • Most (71%) of those impacted by a financial factor indicated that the financial factor made the decision difficult, but did not change their treatment decision.
  • More than one third of those who did not access financial assistance were unaware it was available.
  • Those having a reduced income since being diagnosed with cancer had over four times the odds of reporting a heavy or extreme financial burden associated with prescribed medicines for cancer.

The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and conducted with input from Cancer Council NSW.