What Factors Can Contribute to Financial Toxicity in Cancer Care
Factors that can contribute to financial toxicity in cancer care include both direct costs (treatment) and indirect costs (loss of income)

Financial toxicity, also called financial distress, refers to problems people with cancer experience related to the cost of treatment. Factors that can contribute to financial toxicity in cancer care include both direct costs (treatment) and indirect costs (loss of income).

2 types of costs can cause financial toxicity

1. Direct costs

Direct costs include costs for therapy and medications. Prices have soared in recent years, especially with the emergence of newer therapies such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Due to rising costs, insurance companies have made changes such as:

  • Increased deductibles
  • Restricted specialty medication plans
  • Higher copayments

As a result, people with cancer may need to pay more out-of-pocket even years after the initial diagnosis.

2. Indirect costs

Apart from medical costs, several other factors can contribute to financial toxicity in people with cancer. These include:

  • Loss of productivity at work, which can include:
    • Fewer hours of work
    • Days off work
    • Job loss due to poor health
  • Reduced income and assets
  • No nonretirement or other savings
  • Existing debts
  • Out-of-pocket costs as a percentage of income
  • Trouble paying medical bills and necessities (e.g., housing, food)
  • Bankruptcy

Many patients with cancer report being stressed about paying for the medical bills.

Who is at highest risk of financial toxicity?

Not all people with cancer are affected by cancer treatment the same way. Those who are at higher risk of financial toxicity and burden due to cancer care include the following: 

  • Low-income
  • Uninsured 
  • Minorities
  • Younger people, due to fewer assets and college debt
  • Patients who require intensive treatment

How does financial toxicity impact the well-being of a cancer patient?

Cancer care and treatment can be financially catastrophic to the patients, leading to:

  • Decreased quality of life
  • Stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Reduced spending on food and clothing
  • Reduced frequency of taking prescribed medication

How can financial toxicity be reduced?

Some ways to reduce financial toxicity include:

  • Having adequate health insurance
  • Discussing your income level with your surgeon or doctor
  • Maximizing disability benefits or paid family leave benefits


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Medically Reviewed on 4/13/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Snyder RA, Chang GJ. Financial toxicity: A growing burden for cancer patients. Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons. https://bulletin.facs.org/2019/09/financial-toxicity-a-growing-burden-for-cancer-patients/

Triage Cancer. Financial Toxicity After a Cancer Diagnosis – It’s Impact & Factors. https://triagecancer.org/financial-toxicity#3