The financial burden and rising costs of cancer treatment put many patients in debt or filing for bankruptcy, and this added financial stress is shortening their lives, according to latest research. The researchers found that colon, breast and thyroid patients who went into debt had an 80 percent higher risk of early death, compared to those with the same cancer but financially stable.
Lead researcher Dr. Scott Ramsey said, “Bankruptcy, for reasons that we don’t know, is a serious threat to survival for cancer patients.”
Medical expenses are one of the most common reasons why people file for bankruptcy, as Dr. Ramsey added, “We think that what happens is that when people are diagnosed, they had to leave their job, use up all their savings, go into debt and at some point the debt was overwhelming.”
When patients go bankrupt, it can halt treatment, which can increase the risk of early death. Furthermore, the added stress can also play a role in mortality.
“Many of the treatments that are recommended equally can vary 10 or 100 times in price. Choosing a therapy that’s less expensive might be better because the patient may be able to complete it,” said Dr. Ramsey.
To achieve their findings, the researchers examined data from 230,000 cancer patients and linked it with federal bankruptcy records.
Between 1995 and 2009, over 4,700 patients filed for bankruptcy, and these patients were more likely to skip treatments and medications.
Jason Zheng, a senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, said, “We know that cancer patients are more likely to file bankruptcy, compared with other patients.” Skipping medications can, “lead to bad results and higher mortality,” he said. “We need to identify patients at financial risk before they file for bankruptcy,” added Zheng.
The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.