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Finances Impact Cancer Survivors’ Use of Medications

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Many cancer survivors can’t afford to take all their medications the way they were prescribed, which can lead them to make changes that include skipping doses or delaying filling prescriptions. This problem appears to mainly affect adults younger than age 65, according to a study by researchers from the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.

The study was published February 20 in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. Researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey to find out how finances led people to change their prescription drug use. The survey included about 135,000 people, including almost 9,000 cancer survivors.

Among cancer survivors ages 18- 64, about 32% of those diagnosed within the past two years and about 28% of those diagnosed at least two years ago reported changing their prescription drug use for financial reasons. This compared with only about 21% of those without a history of cancer. “Specifically, non-elderly cancer survivors were more likely to skip medication, delay filling a prescription, ask their doctor for lower-cost medication, and use alternative therapies for financial reasons compared with non-elderly individuals without a cancer history,” said the American Cancer Society’s Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, a senior author of the paper.

For those ages 65 and older, changes in prescription drug use for financial reasons were generally similar between cancer survivors and those with no cancer history.

According to the study authors, differences between age groups are likely due to several factors:

  • Younger people are more likely to have financial commitments including mortgages, college tuition, and dependent family members.
  • Younger people are more likely to be still working and relying on a paycheck; however, a cancer diagnosis can lead to missed work days and other barriers to working that can reduce income.
  • If barriers to working lead to job loss, employment-based insurance coverage can be lost, too, increasing the chances of delaying or missing health care.
  • Uniform health care coverage through Medicare means people age 65 and older are more likely to have and keep affordable health insurance.

Jemal says people who are having trouble paying for their medication should talk to their health care team about alternatives. He says sometimes lower cost options are available that provide a benefit as good as more expensive drugs.

If you or someone you know has cancer and needs help, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Do Cancer Survivors Change Their Prescription Drug Use for Financial Reasons? Findings From a Nationally Representative Sample in the United States. Published February 20, 2017 in Cancer. First author Zhiyuan Zheng, PhD , American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.