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Money Matters

Health Care Costs Can Harm Cancer Patients

Financial stress related to medical cost can affect the health of cancer patients, even those who have finished their treatment.

The finding, by researchers from Duke University, was published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

It builds on earlier research from Duke Medicine that has analyzed “financial toxicity” from cancer care.

“Our focus has been on how the cost of cancer care impacts a patient’s well being, and we found that patients are at risk of experiencing financial harm as a result of the treatments we prescribe,” said Dr. Yousuf Zafar, M.D., MHS, associate professor at Duke and lead author of the study.

“Even for patients who have insurance, those out-of-pocket costs add up,” Zafar said. “Patients are at risk for not adhering to their treatments due to cost. They may have to borrow, spend their savings, or cut back on basics like food and clothing, all to help pay for care.”

The investigators looked at surveys and medical records for 1,000 patients nationwide who had been diagnosed with colorectal or lung cancer. Of that group, 889 were cancer-free and 111 had advanced cancer.

Nearly 50 percent reported having difficulty with making ends meet. Researchers said that a heavy financial burden was linked to a “poorer health-related quality of life,” according to a Duke news release.

The study also amplified previous findings that patients aren’t likely to discuss the cost of care with their doctors, in some cases because they worry that just mentioning the problem could lead to lower-quality care.

Zafar said the research should lead to discussion among providers on possible cost-cutting. “We as physicians don’t bear the burden of finding the answer on our own,” he added. “We might not have all the answers on how to decrease our patients’ costs, but we have people around us — pharmacists, financial advisors, social workers — who are just a phone call away.”

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