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Cancer survivors struggle with high financial burdens

Lost productivity, disability increase costs for care
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Despite all the new developments being made in the treatment of cancer, Americans who survive it confront major economic burdens. Those encumbrances include increasing medical costs, missed time on the job, and lower productivity, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Cancer survivors face physical, emotional, psychosocial, employment and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” says Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, a senior health economist at CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “With the number of cancer survivors expected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next decade – to 18 million Americans -- medical and public health professionals must be diligent in their efforts to help reduce the burden of cancer on survivors and their families.”

Researchers conducted a survey to estimate annual medical costs and productivity losses among male and female cancer survivors, aged 18 years and older, and compared them to people without cancer. They estimated lost productivity by reviewing employment disability (being unable to work because of illness or injury), health-related missed work days, and days spent in bed due to ill health.

From 2008-2011, male cancer survivors had annual medical costs of more than $8,000 per person, and productivity losses of $3,700 compared. Males without a history of cancer had medical costs of $3,900 and productivity losses or $2,300.

During the same time, female cancer survivors had $8,400 in annual medical costs per person and $4,000 in productivity losses. Females without a history of cancer had annual medical costs of $5,100 and $2,700 in productivity losses.

Study findings indicate:

• Cancer survivors were more likely to be female, non-Hispanic white, have multiple chronic conditions, or to be in fair or poor health.
• Employment disability accounted for about 75 percent of lost productivity among cancer survivors.
• Among survivors who were employed at the time of their diagnosis, cancer and its treatment interfered with physical tasks (25 percent) and mental tasks required by the job (14 percent).
• Almost 25 percent of cancer survivors felt less productive at work.

The report also found that about 10 percent of survivors aged 65 years and younger were uninsured and likely to have a larger financial burden compared to survivors with some source of payment for medical services.

The authors noted that nearly 32 percent of survivors experienced limitations in their usual daily activities outside of work because of cancer. Among those employed, more than 42 percent had to make changes to their work hours and duties.

The researchers conclude that “comprehensive health and employment intervention programs may be needed to improve outcomes for cancer survivors and their families.” They also recommend that uninsured people with cancer obtain insurance under the Affordable Care Act to help defray costs.