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Economic Consequences of Cancer Treatment–Related Fatigue

Economic Consequences of Cancer Treatment–Related Fatigue

Cancer treatment–related fatigue, the most prevalent and debilitating side effect of chemotherapy, has a significant impact on the economic well-being of patients and their caregivers, according to a national survey of more than 300 cancer patients. The survey findings were presented at the Pan American Congress of Psychosocial and Behavioral Oncology in New York City.

“Clinicians have already recognized that fatigue has a devastating impact on patients’ physical and emotional health,” said Gregory A. Curt, MD, clinical director at the National Cancer Institute. “However, this study is the first to examine its effect on patients’ finances and ability to earn a living.”

The survey was released by the Fatigue Coalition, a multidisciplinary group of medical practitioners, researchers, and patient advocates and was conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide. The respondents included patients who had undergone chemotherapy for leukemia or lymphoma; women with breast, ovarian, cervical, bladder, or skin cancer; and men with prostate or lung cancer.

Patients, Caregivers Lose Work Hours

The survey found that 76% of cancer patients consistently experience debilitating fatigue, commonly caused by chemotherapy-induced anemia. A majority (59%) of these patients were actively working at the time of diagnosis; however, following diagnosis and treatment, 75% had to make changes in their employment status, such as a decrease in work hours (34%), need to receive disability payments (23%), and discontinuation of work (28%). On average, patients reported missing almost a full work week (4.2 days) during a typical month.

The survey also uncovered surprising findings about the indirect effect fatigue has on the finances of cancer caregivers. Nearly half (49%) of all caregivers were forced to reduce work hours, accept fewer job responsibilities, and take time off because they had to care for fatigued cancer patients. Cancer caregivers took 4.5 sick/vacation days per month, on average, to fulfill their daily care duties.

Expenses Also Increase

Cancer treatment–related fatigue takes an economic toll beyond lost work hours. Among respondents who experienced some level of fatigue, 50% reported needing help for everyday chores, such as cleaning the house or caring for children, which also increased expenditures.

“The survey found that you don’t have to have cancer to realize the effects of cancer treatment–related fatigue,” said Dr. Curt. “Since fatigue may jeopardize the livelihood of patients’ and their caregivers, it is imperative for them to address the symptoms of fatigue with their doctors.”

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