Simply getting a diagnosis of cancer would send the stress level of most people through the roof. It’s not news that anybody visiting a doctor wants to hear. The stress of the disease, however, is not the only stress which comes with a positive diagnosis. Another huge stress factor which comes with the disease is financial in nature.
To better help those diagnosed with cancer and their families, a group of University of Chicago cancer specialists have come up with a new tool which can help determine how much “financial toxicity” a cancer patient is able to tolerate. The new tool is called COST (COmprehensive Score for financial Toxicity) and was published in the July issue of the journal Cancer.
Healthcare is expensive, but those dealing with cancer are hit even harder by the cost. Cancer care costs are rising at a faster clip than healthcare overall, and the cost of new cancer drugs is increasing even more quickly than the overall cost of cancer care. In other words, when it comes to getting a sickness, cancer ends up being an expensive disease to treat, and that cost is rising more quickly than other healthcare costs.
Financial hardships aren’t limited to those who have cancer. Even those who recover fully to become cancer-free continue to have to deal with financial issues of the disease. As many as 30% of those who survive cancer and become cancer-free, still aren’t able to work, or can only work in a decreased capacity after they recover, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Then there are the extra annual medical expenses survivors incur. Men who have had cancer will end up paying approximately $4,000 more a year in annual medical expenses than those who haven’t had the disease. It’s not much better for women, who can expect to pay an additional $3,300 a year as a cancer survivor.
The COST tool was developed to help doctors better discuss with their patients the financial burdens which come with being diagnosed with cancer, something few doctors do these days. By providing a tool which helps predict how a patient will react to the financial burdens that come with cancer, it’ll give doctors an initial step to allow them to begin the discussion. For example, knowing how patients are feeling about the financial aspects of the disease, doctors may be able to offer less expensive alternatives which still meet their treatment needs.
The tool consists of 11 statements to help elicit the information the doctors need to determine the financial risk the patient has. Those who score high for financial toxicity can be referred to support and counseling to better address the stress and their needs.
The initial study consisted of 155 patients. The researchers expected to find a correlation between income and financial hardship, but they didn’t. Instead, they found one between less education and financial stress. Since the first study was small, bigger studies need to be done to confirm these findings.
(Photo courtesy of 401k)