Cancer’s Financial Burden Affects the Patient’s Friends and Family

Cancer’s Financial Burden Affects the Patient’s Friends and Family

The psychological challenges of cancer are hard enough on the patient’s family then you add in the financial impact and the journey is even more catastrophic. According to the National Cancer Institute, when a family member develops cancer:

  • Between 33 percent and 80 percent of cancer survivors exhaust their savings to finance medical expenses.
  • Up to 34 percent borrow money from friends or family to pay for care.
  • For those who fall into debt, the level of debt is substantial. In a study of colon cancer survivors in Washington state, the mean debt was $26,860.
  • Bankruptcy rates among cancer survivors are 260 percent higher than among similar households without cancer. [i]

“Maria (not her real name) was terrified when her 5-year-old son, Rafe, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She worried about his chances of survival and the side effects of the proposed treatment. What she didn’t anticipate was the financial toll his illness would take on the family. As Rafe’s medical needs intensified, caring for him became all-consuming and Maria quit her job. Although her husband was still employed, the family’s income fell to half of what it had been, and they were faced with mounting medical bills on top of the normal day-to-day expenses like groceries and gas.

The financial stress ramped up quickly. Months into Rafe’s treatment, with the family’s savings obliterated, they fell behind on mortgage and utility payments. Neighbors held a fundraising drive, gathering nearly $10,000, but by then the bills were so great that the money was gone within a week. Then the power company came to shut off the electricity. By this time, Rafe was on a chemotherapy infusion pump, and the backup batteries would last only a few hours. Where to turn? What to do?”[ii]

“The reality is people are having to choose between feeding their family, having a car, having the ability to afford rent, and the most concerning piece for me, choosing not to take their medication,” says Clorinda Walley, Executive Director of Good Days (

The financial burden then affects the patient’s health, “The adjusted hazard ratio for mortality among patients with cancer who filed for bankruptcy versus those who did not was 1.79 (95% CI, 1.64 to 1.96).”[iii] Basically a 79% increase in the mortality risk.

The cause is in multiple areas, rapidly rising drug costs, hospital stay increases, weakened insurance coverage, inadequate sick leave from employers and more contribute to the challenge. There are many proposed changes to help with the problem, including eliminating “out of pocket” spending for newly diagnosed cancer patients provided they follow agreed upon treatment plans.

In the meantime, we at Just4Cancer hope to provide an avenue for the patients and families to help each other, reach out to other friends, charities and caring strangers for support.

[i]Financial toxicity: 1 in 3 cancer patients have to turn to friends or family to pay for care,

[ii] Financial toxicity: 1 in 3 cancer patients have to turn to friends or family to pay for care,

[iii] Financial Insolvency as a Risk Factor for Early Mortality Among Patients With Cancer,

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