Young Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer Likely to Experience Financial Decline

March 10, 2020

A recent study found that young women aged 18-39 diagnosed with breast cancer typically suffer through financial hardships regardless of outstanding life circumstances such as career and insurance coverage.

Young women with breast cancer are likely to experience financial hardships in the wake of diagnosis, regardless of insurance and financial circumstances, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The study revealed that about 47% of the patient population surveyed experienced financial decline because of the costs to handle cancer care. Even more, 81.5% of that population claimed to use personal funds to on treatment out-of-pocket costs.

“Even though patients and physicians understand the importance of having discussions about the economic burden of cancer, such conversations seldom occur,” explained lead researcher Florence K.L. Tangka, PhD, MS. “Cancer patients may not have choices in all aspects of cancer care, but if they have information on the duration of treatment and how much they need to pay out of pocket, they can plan better.”  

The researchers focused on women between the ages of 18 and 39 who received a breast cancer diagnosis between January 2013 and December 2014 from four different states: California, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. A total of 830 women completed the researcher-created survey with questions ranging from topics such as insurance status to access to treatment and quality of care.

Both women with a stage 3 or stage 4 diagnosis, and women without a college degree were more likely to experience financial hardships. The survey also concluded white women were the least likely demographic to experience financial decline, with the data for other racial/ethnic groups not being statistically significant.

On the topic of out-of-pocket expenses, the results of the survey concluded that 27.7% of women spent less than $500 on out-of-pocket costs; 27.9% spent $500-$2,000; 18.7% spent $2,001-$5,000; and 17% spent $5,001-$10,000.

“A lot of women don’t have a good sense of how much a cancer diagnosis will cost, including out-of-pocket costs,” Tangka said. “We feel that if they have cost information, they can develop better financial plans to cover their treatment expenses.”

The survey also showed that 73.4% of women were employed at the time of diagnosis. More specifically, 40.4% of respondents said the cancer impacted their job performance negatively, 12.2% reported quitting their jobs, and 7.5% reported losing their jobs.

Despite over 70% of women reporting continuous insurance 12 months prior to the survey, the results suggest women still experience financial challenges throughout the treatment process. The researchers concluded that many of the women diagnosed attempt to keep their jobs in order to maintain the level of health coverage they receive at their place of employment.

Tangka, the primary researcher, suggested future research could examine additional employment modifications, such as increasing part-time options. Even more, a greater understanding of the financial commitments of cancer care could help inform treatment decisions. The study data could potentially serve as a reminder to clinicians that financial concerns can be considered when discussing treatment, according to Tangka.

A limitation of the research was the data was only gathered from a population based in 4 states, therefore the data may not be generalizable across the country or world. Another limitation of the study is that the economically disadvantaged or sicker population of women may have been less likely to respond to requests to fill out the survey, ultimately introducing a potential skew in the data.

Reference:

Young Women with Breast Cancer May Face Financial Hardship After Diagnosis [news release]. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Published March 4, 2020. https://www.aacr.org/about-the-aacr/newsroom/news-releases/young-women-with-breast-cancer-may-face-financial-hardship-after-diagnosis/. Accessed March 5, 2020.