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Study shows treatment for breast cancer may cause financial stress

Published on | Kylie Chin

Fearful couple doing their accounts sat on a couch

No one can deny that coping with a breast cancer diagnosis is hard enough, and studies show that treatment is causing another type of stress: financial hardship. According to a recent breast cancer study by the University of Michigan, 25 percent of survivors are still reeling from financial stress four years after receiving treatment, and 12 percent report having medical debt.

“These patients are particularly vulnerable to financial distress,” says Reshma Jagsi, M.D., an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “We need to ensure appropriate communication between patients and their doctors regarding the financial implications of a cancer diagnosis and treatment decisions to help reduce the long-term burden.”

With over 1,052 respondents, the study surveyed breast cancer patients in Detroit and Los Angeles about nine months after diagnosis and once again four years later. Researchers asked respondents if breast cancer treatment caused financial trouble or long-term strain—and roughly 263 respondents (one quarter) reported experiencing such difficulty.

While lost wages as a result of an extended leave from work are a real threat from a breast cancer diagnosis—not to mention loss of life—there are a few organizations that can offer both emotional and financial aid to patients.

Breast Cancer Support Programs

The Pink Fund is a breast cancer support organization that covers day-to-day living expenses for up to 90 days in an effort to reduce stress and improve quality of life, a mission the organization believes improves cancer survivorship. As a public charity group, the Pink Fund encourages patients to concentrate on healing instead of stressing over mortgage payments, utility bills, or health insurance premiums.

Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation is another organization that provides financial assistance and support to patients fighting breast cancer. Known as the Medical Gap Care Fund, Miles of Hope offers financial aid to help breast cancer patients recover from costly medical expenses that are not covered by health insurance. The organization also provides peer counseling, a program that pairs recently diagnosed breast cancer patients with survivors to lend advice and moral support. In addition to wellness and therapeutic treatment (such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and exercise programs), Miles of Hope even awards college scholarship money to college-bound seniors who are affected by breast cancer.

For patients seeking additional help while undergoing treatment including childcare, prescription drug assistance, and special transportation, the Susan G. Komen® Foundation has an extensive list of breast cancer resources for people living with the disease.

Other Resources

Aside from financial assistance programs that can help pay for food, bills, and other daily living expenses, here are a few things to consider before writing that “break-the-bank” check for your breast cancer treatment:

  • Consult with your doctor (often times your doctor can give you helpful advice and information about local support organizations)
  • Talk with a financial counselor to create a budget and establish a payment plan for your breast cancer treatment
  • Stay informed about your health insurance by reviewing your plan to know the extent of medical coverage— If you don’t have insurance you may qualify for Medicaid assistance
  • Ask your accountant if you’re eligible for a tax deduction for breast cancer treatment, as some patients may be able to write-off certain medical expense

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