Cost Concerns Block Cancer Treatments

Millions of Cancer Survivors Don't Get Treatments They Need Because of Costs

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

June 15, 2010 -- Millions of cancer survivors skip or delay important medical treatments because of worries about costs, a new study says.

The finding raises major concerns about the long-term health and well-being of people who have survived cancer, who need checkups and continuing care for life.

The study is published in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

"This is important because cancer survivors have many medical needs that persist for years after their diagnosis and treatment," study author Kathryn Weaver, PhD, MPH, of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, says in a news release.

Barriers to Cancer Care

Weaver and a team of colleagues examined the prevalence of cancer survivors who skip or put off treatment and checkups because they are concerned about costs.

The researchers analyzed data from the annual U.S. National Health Interview Survey.

The survey information, gathered in person from 30,000 to 40,000 households, is used to track trends in illness and disability in the United States. Participants were asked whether they needed medical care but didn't get it because of money worries, and whether they had delayed seeking treatment for financial reasons.

The scientists analyzed data for 6,602 adult cancer survivors, and 104,364 people who had not had cancer.

The prevalence of forgoing or delaying care in the past year because of cost was:

  • 7.8% for medical care
  • 9.9% for prescription medications
  • 11.3% for dental care
  • 2.7% for mental health care

Cancer survivors under age 65 were 55% more likely to delay or skip all types of medical care, compared to people the same age with no history of cancer. The prevalence of forgoing one or more medical services was 17.6%. Also, researchers say Hispanic and African-American cancer survivors were more likely to go without prescription medications and dental care than white cancer survivors.

Longer Life, More Costs

The authors write that skipping medical care is dangerous because the 12 million cancer survivors in the U.S. have medical needs that include surveillance for recurrences of the disease. Doctors also need to check patients for additional malignancies and for chronic and late effects of the disease and previous treatments, the researchers say.

But "despite their great need for medical services, cancer survivors may experience barriers to accessing care," the authors write. "Cancer treatment may result in financial hardship and an inability to afford medical copayments, prescription medications, and medical services. This is concerning, because individuals who are diagnosed and treated as younger adults, especially those with early stage cancers, are expected to live many years after their diagnosis, which makes access to appropriate preventive and health maintenance services crucial for their long-term health and well-being."

They say more research is needed about the role cost plays in patients' health care decisions. This is particularly important now, the authors say, "in light of changes in the health insurance industry."


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SOURCES: News release, American Cancer Society.

Weaver, K. Cancer, June 14, 2010.

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