One-Third of U.S. Cancer Survivors May Be Experiencing Financial or Work-Related Hardship

Key Points

  • Overall, 27% of those surveyed reported at least one financial difficulty, and 37% reported making at least one work modification due to cancer diagnosis.
  • Those in active treatment reported 120% more financial difficulties than survivors who were less than 5 years post-treatment.
  • Women, younger survivors, racial/ethnic minorities, and uninsured survivors were all disproportionately burdened by financial and work-related hardships.

New results from a survey of nearly 1,600 cancer survivors indicate a high prevalence of financial and work-related difficulties: 27% reported at least one financial problem (eg, debt, bankruptcy), and 37% reported having to modify work plans, such as taking extended time off or delaying retirement. Women, younger survivors, racial/ethnic minorities, and uninsured survivors were all disproportionally burdened by these challenges. The findings were reported at a presscast in advance of the 2014 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium (Abstract 238).

Most prior studies have focused on a small subgroup of patients with cancer or examined medical expenditures but not the actual financial burdens that survivors experience. This study is the first to explore financial burden disparities in a large, nationally representative group of cancer survivors.

“We found that many cancer survivors, particularly those who are younger or from underserved populations, experience financial or work-related hardship—even when insured and years out from treatment,” said lead study author Robin Whitney, RN, BSN, a cancer survivor and PhD student at the University of California, Davis, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. “Addressing these challenges is an important aspect of providing quality cancer care, because they can substantially impact quality of life and health outcomes.”

Study Details

The present analysis focused on a subset of individuals surveyed in a larger study (2011 Medical Expenditures Panel Survey Experiences with Cancer Survivorship Supplement). Among the 1,592 survivors surveyed, 47% were younger than 65, 56% were female, 88% were white, and 4% were uninsured. With regards to treatment status, 14% were in active treatment, 46% were less than 5 years post-treatment, and 39% were 5 or more years post-treatment. 

Overall, 27% of those surveyed reported at least one financial difficulty, and 37% reported making at least one work modification due to cancer diagnosis. Those in active treatment reported 120% more financial difficulties than survivors who were less than 5 years post-treatment. Individuals younger than 65 reported 130% more financial difficulties than older survivors; those without insurance had 67% more difficulties compared to those with insurance; and individuals with non-white race/ethnicity had 42% more financial difficulties. Women were significantly more likely than men to make at least one work modification; patients in active treatment made 120% more work modifications than those less than 5 years post-treatment; and non-white minorities made 57% more modifications than whites. 

According to the authors, the findings of this study are generalizable to the U.S. population, and point to the urgent need for screening and support for financial and work challenges across the cancer survivorship trajectory, from diagnosis to long-term survivorship.

The study authors reported no potential conflicts of interest.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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