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Cancer Treatment Cost Have Mental And Physical Impact On Survivors

A latest study done by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia and the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University has revealed that a large number of people who have overcome cancer are living in poverty and this is taking a drastic toll on their physical and mental health.

With the help of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which has information from people across America about health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and the usage of preventive services, the researchers found that around 12 percent of 28,000 cancer survivors were living in poor conditions.

Commenting on their study, the researchers write in the journal JCO Oncology Practice, "The high cost of oncology care in the United States and its adverse effects on cancer survivors is of increasing concern. The financial burden of cancer often persists years after diagnosis, due to ongoing costs of cancer care and late effects of cancer treatment, as well as incurred debt, lost income and inability to work."

The cost of curing cancer in the United States does not come cheap now with treatments totalling $100,000 or more annually, and for people without health insurance, it really is an uphill task ahead.

Drawing inspiration from sample studies in breast cancer, researchers studied people who survived leukemia and lymphoma from the national dataset and found the same issues. Like the national dataset, many leukemia and lymphoma survivors at the Georgia Cancer Center were from poor financial backgrounds and now were struggling to survive.

Corresponding author Dr. Steven S Coughlin, interim chief of the Division of Epidemiology in the MCG Department of Population Health Sciences, said, "We found that cancer survivors who are low income, living below the federal poverty line, are much more likely to have poorer physical health, as compared to the higher income survivors. They are also more likely to have poor mental health and to not have health insurance."

Among the people survived, the presence of self-reported poor health conditions was very high among low-income cancer survivors as compared to higher-income survivors, i.e, 59 percent for low-income compared to 27 percent for high.
Researchers said that cancer-related financial problems could be due to many factors like high cost of treatment to reduced income from missing work or unemployment. Cancer survivors also face medical debt and lowered consumer credit, which is found more in the case of racial and ethnic minorities and low-income individuals, they added.

Cortes said, "We've cured their cancer, but now they have much less capability to take care of themselves, to put food on the table, to see a doctor, to pay for their medications - all these other elements."

To help solve this issue, health care providers should survey oncology patients for financial hardship the first time they see them and, when necessary, guide them to appropriate resources like social workers and financial counsellors.

Coughlin concludes, "There may be resources or solutions they're not aware of. For instance, there may be provisions a hospital's business office can make. Financial education is also an important part of the solution. A lot of people also put medical debt on a credit card, for example, and you end up paying a lot of interest on that. It's much better to use other means like a personal loan."

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