Unraveling Financial Toxicity in Cancer Care: A Deep Dive with Industry Thought Leaders

Learn from various sources about tackling financial toxicity for cancer

May 8, 2024
financial toxicity, healthcare access, cancer

The series Barriers to Care brings critical attention to the dire issue of financial toxicity in cancer treatment. "Financial Toxicity Across the Cancer Care Continuum," serves as the cornerstone of the discussion on the crippling economic impact of cancer care on patients. Patricia Falconer's insights are accompanied by other significant contributions that explore additional facets of barriers to care, enriching the discourse on this crucial topic.

The Pervasive Challenge of Financial Toxicity

Falconer meticulously details how modern cancer treatments, while increasingly effective, bring with them an escalating financial burden that many patients are unable to bear. The costs associated with new treatment, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies, are substantial. The financial strain is particularly acute during the initial year following diagnosis and in the terminal phase of the disease. Patients, especially younger ones or those diagnosed at advanced stages, often face prohibitive out-of-pocket expenses that can lead to treatment delays or avoidance due to cost—a scenario that Falconer argues could be mitigated with better policy and support systems.  

Specific Areas of Financial Impact

Falconer's analysis breaks down the financial impacts across different treatment modalities:

  • Surgery: Financial strain affects half of the surgical patients, particularly those whose family income is between 50% and 150% of the Federal Poverty Level, leading to worse outcomes due to medication non-adherence and deferred care.
  • Radiation and Systemic Therapies: About 40% of patients undergoing radiation therapy experience financial distress, and those on systemic therapies face increased burdens due to the high costs of drugs and the prevalence of high-deductible health plans.
  • Clinical Trials: Although vital for the development of new treatments, clinical trials often add to the financial load with additional costs for travel, frequent visits, and lost work hours.  

Highlighting the necessity for systemic solutions, Falconer advocates for the integration of financial distress screenings in routine care settings, the use of validated tools like the Comprehensive Score for Financial Toxicity (COST) and a stronger connection between patients and financial aid resources.  

Other Perspectives on Barriers to Care

The series also features other articles that address different aspects of cancer care challenges:

  • Nutritional Barriers: An article by Leeann Medina-Martinez from CancerCare discusses the financial and physical barriers to proper nutrition for cancer patients, emphasizing the importance of access to nutritious food and the financial assistance available through organizations like CancerCare.
  • Navigational Help from Oncology Pharmacists: Another piece by Heidi Finnes at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center highlights how oncology pharmacists aid patients in managing their treatments, addressing the high costs of medications, and navigating the complexities of treatment protocols.
  • Challenges with Oral Oncolytics: A further discussion with Kirollos S. Hanna from Minnesota Oncology was on the specific challenges presented by oral cancer medications, including high cost-sharing burdens and the need for meticulous medication management at home.

While the "Barriers to Care" series provides a rich tableau of the challenges faced by cancer patients, the focused exploration of financial toxicity offers a critical lens to view the intersection of economic hardship and healthcare. This not only illuminates the scale of the problem but also charts a course towards potential remedies that could shield patients from the devastating financial impacts of cancer care.