The cost of treatment for early stage breast cancer can be devastating for many patients, but they get little guidance or help from their doctors, a new study suggests.
“We have made a lot of progress in breast cancer treatment, which is wonderful. But this study shows we are only part of the way to our goal. We must now turn our efforts to confronting the financial devastation many patients face,” said study author Dr. Reshma Jagsi, deputy chair of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan.
In the study, researchers surveyed about 2,500 women treated for early stage breast cancer and 845 treating surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists.
About 38 percent of the patients were at least somewhat concerned about the financial impact of their breast cancer treatment, and some faced extensive hardship, the findings showed. Fourteen percent said they lost more than 10 percent of their household income, and 17 percent spent more than 10 percent of their household income on out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Black and Hispanic patients were the most likely to have financial struggles, including debt from treatment, loss of their home, having utilities turned off for unpaid bills and having less money for food, according to the report.
While many of the doctors in the study said they were concerned about treatment costs and discussed financial issues with patients, 73 percent of patients with financial concerns said they received no help from their doctor’s office.
That suggests that doctors and their staff need to improve communication with patients about financial hardship, the study authors said.
“To cure a patient’s disease at the cost of financial ruin falls short of our duty as physicians to serve,” Jagsi said in a university news release. “It’s simply not acceptable to ignore patients’ financial distress any longer.”
The report was published in the July 23 issue of the journal Cancer.
The American Cancer Society has more on the costs of cancer treatment.