Even Successful Treatment Can Come With Unintended Effects

Kimberly M. Hicks, Pharm.D., M.H.A., Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy


The relationship between breast cancer and a woman’s wallet is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that women who survive breast cancer treatment are, well, alive. The bad news is that a significant number of these women deal with long-lasting financial decline due to treatment expenses. In fact, one-quarter of breast cancer survivors experience money troubles after treatment, according to research in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.


Researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center took a look at the financial situation of women about 9 months after a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer and then again 4 years later. The 3,133 women responding to this survey live in Los Angeles or Detroit and included a variety of races and ethnicities.


Of these long-term breast cancer survivors, there were significant financial impacts from treating the disease:

  • Average out-of-pocket expenses were $2,000 or less
  • 17% of women spent more than $5,000 on treatment
  • 12% were still facing medical debt up to 4 years after their diagnosis of breast cancer
  • 25% experienced financial decline related to breast cancer treatment


Drilling down even deeper into the data, there was clearly a race component. Latinas and African-Americans reported more debt related to treatment than whites. These two groups also reported more non-adherence spurred by limited finances (such as skipping medication or missing a doctor’s appointment) and overall hardships (such as not having health insurance, utility shut-offs, or losing their homes) related to medical expenses. These relationships held, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment.


Advances and new options in treating breast cancer bring better treatment outcomes for many women, but oncologists and physicians need to keep in mind inadvertent financial distress that can be an unintended side effect. Keeping the lines of communication open about all aspects of a patient’s life can help ensure treatment while not leaving a patient in excessive debt. There are non-profit patient foundations available to fill the gap for many patients who might require financial support.



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Jagsi R, Pottow JAE, Griffith KA, et al. Long-term financial burden of breast cancer: Experiences of a diverse cohort of survivors identified through population-based registries. J Clin Oncol March 24, 2014 (published online).


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