A new study finds that cancer patients who are skating on thin financial ice suffer worse symptoms, more pain, and reduced quality of life than those who have more money in the bank to fall back on.
In particular, colon and lung cancer patients with two or less months of funds had a substantially poorer quality of life than those who had more than a year of financial reserves.
The study findings, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on February 29, 2016, involved more than 3,400 patients.
Less Savings = More Pain
At the time of their cancer diagnosis, patients who already weak in financial reserves tended to have higher physical impairment, more in-depth depression, and experience pain to a greater extent than those with stronger finances, the researchers note.
Lead author of the study Dr. Christopher Lathan, who is also medical director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, in Boston, put the results in clear perspective when he commented that a patient’s suffering tended to rise as his finances dwindled.
The authors comment that the quality of life implications wasn't necessarily related to having a high or low income. Rather, it is the worry and stress related to the financial strain that makes the impact. In other words, people with a low income may have financial reserves because they saved for a rainy day, while those with a high income may have lived just within or even beyond their means. Financial strain, Lathan said, “stands alone”. "It actually had its own effect, separate from race and income," he explains.
While the researchers don’t know exactly why the two-month financial reserves mark seems to be the break-even point in terms of the quality of life effects for these cancer patients.
The researchers conclude that the identification of patients who need intensive support may be helped by assessment of financial reserves. In addition, Lathan advises that the medical community should take steps to help financially weak cancer patients.
Tips for Patients to Ease the Financial Pain
Cancer patients should let their oncologists know if they have financial worries right from the start. They should make use of social workers in cancer wards who can help them navigate their insurance, find applicable clinical trials, assist them with transportation needs, and help them obtain the best price for their prescriptions.