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Study finds financial toxicity a major concern in cancer treatment

A collection of contemporary artworks by some of Britain's leading artists are due to be auctioned on September 23, 2013, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
A collection of contemporary artworks by some of Britain's leading artists are due to be auctioned on September 23, 2013, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The stress caused by the inability to pay the steadily increasing costs of cancer treatment and the difficulties that cancer patients have in returning to work after successful cancer treatment will become a major problem in the treatment of cancer in the near future. This is the consensus of opinion resulting from a survey of 150 patients with advanced cancer conducted by Dr. Jonas de Souza, a head-and-neck cancer specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, and colleagues. The study was reported in the June 20, 2014, edition of the journal Cancer.

The survey was a unique cooperative effort between practitioners and patients. An initial list of 158 questions was trimmed to just 11 most pertinent inquiries that assessed the effects of the costs of cancer treatment on patients. The final selection of questions included patients, nurses, physicians, and cancer treatment staff. The idea was to obtain the most succinct information from the patients without causing the patients undue stress. The survey has been codified into a measure called the Comprehensive Score for Financial Toxicity (COST).

The researchers assert that the cost of cancer care, the cost of cancer drugs, and the total cost of cancer treatment is increasing faster than the gross domestic product. Over 30 percent of cancer survivors cannot return to work at all or at a diminished capacity that limits their ability to pay treatment costs that average $4,000 per year for males and $3,300 for females. The average income of the patients involved in the study ($63,000) had no relevance on the level of anxiety a patient felt about paying for their treatment.

The researchers suggest their COST tool become a part of regular cancer treatment. The level of financial toxicity has never been measured in this format before. The study indicates that as the United States population ages the number of cancer cases and the anxiety involved with paying for treatment is bound to increase.