Cost of cancer treatment can impact health of survivors

A significant number of people who have survived cancer are living in poverty, which can have negative effects on their physical and mental health, according to researchers at the Medical College of Georgia and the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University.

Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which contains data from people across the US regarding health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and their use of preventive services, they found that 12% of some 28,000 cancer survivors were living in poverty.

“The high cost of oncology care in the United States and its adverse effects on cancer survivors is of increasing concern,” they write in the journal JCO Oncology Practice. “The financial burden of cancer often persists years after diagnosis, due to ongoing costs of cancer care and late effects of cancer treatment, as well as incurred debt, lost income and inability to work.”

Many cancer treatments now total $100,000 or more annually, and without health insurance, those costs can be entirely out-of-pocket.

“We are always focused on curing cancer. That is our goal. That is our first objective when we are finding therapies and discussing treatment options and executing the treatment plan,” says Dr. Jorge Cortes, director of the Georgia Cancer Center and the paper’s senior author. “The problem we also need to address is what comes next.”

Looking to replicate findings from pilot studies in breast cancer, the research team looked at patients with leukemia and lymphoma from the national dataset and identified the same issues. As in the national dataset, many leukemia and lymphoma survivors at the Georgia Cancer Center are low-income and struggle to make ends meet.

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