A cancer diagnosis creates multiple stressors, some of which people don’t realize. The main priority is often treating the cancer, but for cancer patients, employment and finances are also important aspects of life that are affected by a cancer diagnosis.
Two new studies, presented at the recent Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in Boston, examined work-related and financial setbacks experienced by cancer survivors.
It is clear that employment and money concern haunt many people with all kinds of cancer, during and after treatment. A malignant diagnosis can lead individuals to experience disappointment at work, earn less, retire early and reduce their home and leisure spending, as a consequence of medical bills.
The preliminary findings of these two studies add to the growing perception that the collateral damages of a cancer diagnosis are significant. However, details of these papers await further research and analysis.
The number of U.S. cancer survivors is steadily climbing toward 18 million. As more people live for more years after diagnosis, these problem become increasingly prevalent.
Traditionally, employment, time off and medical bills are put on the back burner in the context of decisions about surgery, chemotherapy and medical choices.
The 2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, used by the two studies, is a database that represents a large national sampling of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 65.
37% of employed cancer survivors reported making at least one work-related adjustment as a consequence of their cancer diagnosis or treatment. The self-reported changes included delaying or taking early retirement, switching to a flexible schedule, switching to a less demanding job, declining a promotion, taking extended or unpaid leave.
About 27% of survivors said they experienced at least one financial hardship as a consequence of the disease. The effects included, borrowing money, incurring debt, filing for bankruptcy, worrying about costs, and making financial sacrifices.
The study found that work modifications were more common among cancer patients during active treatment, women, those in poorer health, and non-whites.
The study also found that financial problems disproportionately affected younger survivors, those without insurance, those in poorer health and non-whites.
A non-trivial and large fraction of cancer patients cope with the financial toxicity of their diagnosis and care. Patients are worrying about their jobs and household debts.
Researchers admit that it will be years before these and other relevant studies are completed. However, they urge oncologists, hospital systems, insurers, drug companies, and others to respond to cancer survivors’ concerns.