Financial Problems Lower Many Cancer Survivors’ Quality of Life

Almost one-third of cancer survivors experience financial hardships as a result of their diagnosis and/or treatment, according to a new study by researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University. What’s more, these hardships can have long-lasting physical and mental side effects.

According to background information in the study, estimated out-of-pocket expenses for people with cancer average from $1,730 to $4,727 per year depending on insurance coverage. Survivors who have trouble paying these costs are more likely to skip or delay medical care including mental-health care, and avoid filling prescriptions. This can put their physical and mental health at risk and increase their risk of cancer coming back.

The study was published early online March 14, 2016 in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Researchers looked at the records of 19.6 million cancer survivors from the 2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which collects information about how Americans use and pay for health services. Researchers classified survivors as having a financial problem if they reported borrowing money, declaring bankruptcy, worrying about paying medical bills, being unable to pay for medical visits, or making financial sacrifices.

They found that 28.7% of survivors reported at least one financial problem resulting from cancer diagnosis, treatment, or long-term side effects of treatment. Of all 19.6 million survivors:

  • 20.9% worried about paying large medical bills
  • 11.5% were unable to pay for medical visits
  • 7.6% borrowed money, went into debt, or declared bankruptcy
  • 8.6% said they made other financial sacrifices

Impact on quality of life

Compared with cancer survivors who did not face financial problems, those who did had lower physical and mental health-related quality of life, higher risk for depressed mood and psychological distress, and were more likely to worry about cancer coming back. The more financial problems survivors faced, the more their mental health-related quality of life decreased.

Cancer survivors who had to borrow money or declare bankruptcy had the worst physical and mental health-related quality of life. The researchers estimate that approximately 1.5 million cancer survivors in the US are in in this situation.

The researchers recommend that doctors:

  • Look for treatments that are less expensive while still being just as effective
  • Discuss treatment costs with patients
  • Involve patients in making decisions about treatment

For their part, survivors and their families can educate themselves about their health care coverage and research organizations that provide financial assistance, according to the researchers.

The American Cancer Society can help

The American Cancer Society has lots of information online for cancer patients and survivors about health insurance and financial concerns. You can also call us with your questions anytime day or night at 1-800-227-2345.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Self-Reported Financial Burden of Cancer Care and Its Effect on Physical and Mental Health-Related Quality of Life Among US Cancer Survivors. Published early online March 14, 2016 in CANCER. First author Hrishikesh P. Kale, MS, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.


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