After analyzing data from over 2,000 breast cancer patients and 800 physicians, researchers concluded that all doctors should assess patients for “financial toxicity” and learn to communicate effectively about it.
The study, “Unmet Need for Clinician Engagement Regarding Financial Toxicity After Diagnosis of Breast Cancer,” was published in the journal Cancer.
There are a number of financial costs associated with cancer, from treatment and care costs to disruption of employment. These difficulties have been associated with stress and reduced health-related quality of life.
Despite this, there have been few systematic studies regarding if and how physicians are dealing with breast cancer patients going through such financial difficulties.
Researchers at the University of Michigan aimed to investigate how medical professionals have been dealing with the financial burden their patients are facing.
The study involved surveys of 2,502 breast cancer patients and their physicians — including 370 surgeons, 306 medical oncologists, and 169 radiation oncologists.
All were asked to fill out questionnaires regarding the financial burden associated with their patients’ conditions. Physicians were asked questions such as, “how often does someone in your primary practice discuss the financial burden of cancer treatments with your patients?”
Patients were queried about any out-of-pocked expenses, debt, and the impact the financial strains had on their spending habits.
Nearly half of medical oncologists reported that someone in their practice often or always discussed the financial burden of cancer with patients. But this dropped to 43.2 percent with radiation oncologists and 15.6 percent with surgeons.
From the patients’ points of view, financial burdens were common and often led to reduced in spending on food. African-American and Latina patients were the most affected, with 45.2 percent and 35.8 percent of patients, respectively, reporting financial burdens from their breast cancer.
Among patients who were worried about their finances, 72.8 percent said that medical professionals did not help. Also, of the 523 women who wished to talk with a provider about employment or finances, more than half said they had no relevant discussions with doctors.
“Many patients report inadequate clinician engagement in the management of financial toxicity, even though many providers believe that they make services available,” researchers wrote.
“Efforts must now turn to confront the financial devastation that many patients face, particularly as they progress into survivorship,” they added.
Reshma Jagsi, deputy chair and professor of radiation oncology at University of Michigan Medicine, who headed the study’s comments, said, “we have made a lot of progress in breast cancer treatment, which is wonderful. But this study shows we are only part of the way to our goal. We must now turn our efforts to confronting the financial devastation many patients face.”