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Women Are Facing Bankruptcy To Treat Breast Cancer, Study Shows

An increasing number of women are going bankrupt from breast cancer treatment. According to the New York Post, up to 38% of breast cancer patients said in a recent study that they’re worried about their finances. They also said they don’t feel they’re getting enough help from their physicians.

“We have made a lot of progress in breast cancer treatment,” said Reshma Jagsi, the lead author in the study conducted at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center.

“But this study shows we are only part of the way to our goal,” Jagsi said. “We must now turn our efforts to confronting the financial devastation many patients face.”

In the study, researchers surveyed 2,500 breast cancer patients currently being treated for early-stage breast cancer. Researchers also surveyed 845 treating surgeons, radiation oncologists, and medical oncologists.

Approximately 38% of patients said they were somewhat worried about finances because of their treatment. Up to 14% said they’ve lost 10% of their household income due to out-of-pocket medical expenses. And 17% said they spent more than 10% of their household income on out-of-pocket medical expenses.

The financial burden of cancer treatment varied by ethnicity. Black and Latina women experienced greater financial concerns due to their treatment including debt, unpaid bills, and the threat of losing their homes.

To make matters worse, patients said they felt they couldn’t talk to their medical provider for help about their financial stress.

Up to 50% of oncologists and 42% of radiation oncologists said financial burden was always discussed with patients by someone in their practice. Only 16% of surgeons said it was discussed.

Yet 73% of breast cancer patients said their doctor’s office didn’t help them with their financial burden, showing a need for improved communication between medical professionals and patients.

“To cure a patient’s disease at the cost of financial ruin falls short of our duty as physicians to serve,” said Jagsi. “It’s simply not acceptable to ignore patients’ financial distress any longer.”

Increased communication with patients is especially critical after early-stage breast cancer treatment. Cancer screening is especially important for those who have already been treated for cancer.

For instance, between one to two lives will be saved for every 1,000 men who take a prostate cancer detection test, and mammography can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by 20% to 40%.

But many women aren’t getting the recommended breast cancer screenings after their early stage breast cancer treatment. Instead, many women are receiving unnecessary screening on other parts of their body instead.

In a study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, up to 30% of women didn’t receive breast screening after undergoing surgery for early-stage breast cancer. Yet approximately 32% of women received at least one non-breast imaging test.

“[Every doctor] does something a little bit different,” said Dr. Benjamin Franc, the lead author in the study, “and it can translate into real costs and real harm to patients.”

What’s more, breast cancer patients may be more susceptible to cancer-causing habits such as poor diet and fewer breaks from work because of their financial burdens due to treatment.

For instance, although 92% of employees say they value vacation time, up to 47% of workers didn’t use all their vacation days last year. Increased work-related stress and a lack of vacation time have been shown to have a major medical impact on American workers. With cancer in the equation, the outlook doesn’t look too good.

So although receiving flowers may make 80% of Americans feel happy (especially when they’re in the hospital), better communication between doctors and patients can breast cancer patients feel happier, safer, and more financially secure.

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