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Money Worries Spur Millions to Skip Cancer Therapy
 Cancer Center Feature Story

Money Worries Spur Millions to Skip Cancer Therapy
Prescriptions and treatments are ignored as costs rise, experts find

Money Worries Spur Millions to Skip Cancer Therapy (HealthDay News) --

You might think that surviving cancer would be the primary concern for people diagnosed with the disease.

But researchers have found that the financial hardships associated with cancer treatment are a big obstacle for many, forcing millions to skip or delay medical care -- a finding that's troubling for experts.

"I think it's concerning because we recognize that cancer survivors have many medical needs that persist for years after their diagnosis and treatment," Kathryn E. Weaver, the study's lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences & Health Policy at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., told HealthDay.

"Cancer is a very expensive disease and it's becoming more and more expensive," said Jeanie M. Barnett, director of communications at CancerCare, a nonprofit support group for cancer patients in New York City that provides co-payment assistance for certain cancer medications. "The costs of the drugs are going up. So, too, is the proportion that the patient pays out of pocket," she told HealthDay.

To explore the issue of skipping medical care because of its cost, Weaver's team used data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from 2003 to 2006. The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were based on a sample of 6,602 adult cancer survivors and 104,364 people without a cancer diagnosis.

Among cancer survivors, about 8 percent skipped medical care in the past year because of cost concerns. In addition, roughly 10 percent skimped on prescription medications, 11 percent went without dental care and 3 percent skipped mental health care for economic reasons.

The results indicated that nearly 18 percent of cancer survivors -- about 2 million Americans -- went without one or more medical services because of financial concerns. And cancer survivors younger than 65 were up to twice as likely to skip or delay medical services, the study found.

Weaver said that the medical system needs to do a better job of counseling patients about financial obstacles to care. "Instead of [patients] saying, 'Well, you know, I can't afford this medication,' they just may not fill it," she said. "So I think it needs to become part of the conversation."

For many, talking about costs related to treatment is difficult, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. They suggest that for those who don't know who to ask about these matters, the doctor's office is a good place to start.

When making the appointment, let the office know that you would like to have time to talk to the doctor about your concerns. Your doctor may not have all of the answers but can suggest resources to help you find answers to your financial questions.

Other groups that can provide information include the doctor's support staff, nurses, social workers, case managers, patient advocacy organizations and your employer's human resources department. Your health insurance company can also help answer questions about your specific health-care coverage.

On the Web

To learn more about managing the cost of cancer care, check out information from CancerNet.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Kathryn E. Weaver, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, Department of Social Sciences & Health Policy, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Jeanie M. Barnett, director of communications, CancerCare, New York City; March 17, 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association; American Society of Clinical Oncology (

Author: Anne Thompson

Publication Date: July 31, 2011

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