Combating Financial Toxicity after a Cancer Diagnosis

financial toxcity and cancer
This page was originally published March 5, 2018 and updated May 10, 2024.

The term “financial toxicity” is used to describe the “objective financial burden and subjective financial distress of patients with cancer, as a result of treatments using innovative drugs and concomitant health services” according to a new study “The financial burden and distress of patients with cancer: Understanding and stepping‐up action on the financial toxicity of cancer treatment” published in the Journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians published in January 2018.

Simply put, “financial toxicity” refers to the everyday burden patients will experience because of the cost of treatment and how this will have cascading effects across other areas of both the patient’s treatment and life.

The findings on financial toxicity for cancer patients aligned much with what someone would expect from a financial perspective and what cancer patients understand all too well: Those patients in more precarious financial circumstances often faced greater difficulty during treatment than those who were in more secure situations. The study examined the factors that led to financial stress as well as the various coping mechanisms employed by patients.

In studying over 10,000 Medicare and commercial insurance patients receiving oral oncolytics for cancer treatment, the researchers discovered that patients were more likely to abandon treatment if the copay cost of drugs exceeded $500.

These patients were four times more likely to abandon treatment in the early stages than patients with copays that exceeded $100 or more.

Additionally, the study also found that patients were more likely to abandon certain cancer treatment drugs at a high rate once treatment costs exceeded a certain level (“discontinued treatment once they reached a mean ± standard deviation OOP spending level of $4210 ± $2161 for imatinib, $3634 ± $2147 for erlotinib, and $4032 ± $4032 for thalidomide” according to a study by Kaisaeng, et. al cited in the research). Many of these drugs would exceed these levels with the initial rounds of treatment, the study notes.

A cancer diagnosis is difficult on multiple levels. Not only does the psychological burden of battling the disease weigh on patients, but also the financial stresses of treatment can also impact patient health and treatment outcomes. Recognizing this, doctors and care providers should seek to develop strategies that enable patients to cope with the physical, emotional, and financial stresses of cancer treatment.

Free Financial Help for Cancer Patients

To that end, Cancer Care News has developed and maintains a national directory of free financial resources for cancer patients. Our listings detail program status, eligibility, and include a link to an online application whenever possible. We update the information daily so patients and families can be assured of the latest, most accurate information available on the web.

If you, or someone you know, has been diagnosed with cancer and needs help paying for out of pocket expenses, copays, and/or deductibles, please check out our free resources and get the help you need today! ❤️


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  1. I am glad there are people talking about this and directing help their way. I may have never experienced cancer or treatment debt personally, but I see people suffering from both all the time.

    • We very much agree, Dianne. We strive to provide financial resources to help and are so thankful to the many free programs available to help ease the burden of this terrible disease.

  2. You lose your health, and you lose your job; you need all the help you can get!
    Very informative, thank you!

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