Health-related financial hardship is common among adult survivors of childhood cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Researchers analyzed more than 2800 long-term childhood cancer survivors (CCSs) and found that 65% had financial challenges related to their cancer diagnosis.
“These findings suggest primary care doctors and oncologists should routinely screen childhood cancer survivors for possible financial hardship,” said I-Chan Huang, PhD, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Specifically, Dr Huang recommends that healthcare providers routinely ask CCSs if they are unable to purchase medications, ever skip appointments for economic reasons, or worry about how to pay their medical bills.
For this study, Dr Huang and his colleagues analyzed data from 2811 CCSs. The subjects had a mean age of 31.8 (range, 18 to 65) and were a mean of 23.6 years from cancer diagnosis. Most (57.8%) had been diagnosed with hematologic malignancies, 32.0% with solid tumors, and 10.1% with central nervous system malignancies.
All subjects had been treated at St. Jude and enrolled in the St. Jude LIFE study. Participants return to St. Jude periodically for several days of clinical and functional assessments. Data for this study were collected during the CCSs’ first St. Jude LIFE evaluations.
The researchers measured 3 types of financial hardship—material, psychological, and coping/behavioral.
About 1 in 5 CCSs (22.4%) reported material financial hardship. In other words, their cancer had an impact on their financial situation.
More than half of CCSs (51.1%) reported psychological hardship—concern about their ability to pay for medical expenses.
And 33% of CCSs reported coping/behavioral hardship—an inability to see a doctor or go to the hospital due to finances.
Roughly 65% of CCSs reported at least 1 type of financial hardship.
All 3 types of hardship were significantly associated with somatization (all P<0.001), anxiety (all P<0.001), depression (all P<0.001), suicidal thoughts (all P<0.05), and difficulty in retirement planning (all P<0.001).
Furthermore, CCSs who reported financial hardship had significantly lower health-related quality of life (P<0.001 for all 3 domains), sensation abnormality (all P<0.001), pulmonary symptoms (all P<0.05), and cardiac symptoms (all P<0.05).
Intensive cancer treatment, chronic health conditions, second cancers, age at the time of study evaluation, education level, and annual household income were all significantly associated with a greater risk of financial hardship.
CCSs age 40 and older had an increased risk of psychological and coping/behavioral hardship (P<0.001 for both domains).
CCSs with an annual household income of less than $40,000 had an increased risk of material, psychological, and coping/behavioral hardship, compared to CCSs with an income of $80,000 or more (P<0.001 for all domains).
CCSs who did not obtain a high school diploma had an increased risk of material (P<0.001), psychological (P<0.01), and coping/behavioral hardship (P<0.001) compared to college graduates.
CCSs who received cancer treatments associated with a high-risk disease burden (vs low-risk) had an increased risk of material (P=0.01) and psychological (P=0.004) hardship.
Health conditions associated with material financial hardship included grade 2-4 myocardial infarction (P<0.001), peripheral neuropathy (P<0.001), subsequent neoplasm (P<0.001), seizure (P=0.007), reproductive disorders (P=0.01), stroke (P=0.02), amputation (P=0.02), upper gastrointestinal disease (P=0.04), and hearing loss (P=0.05).
Grade 2-4 myocardial infarction and reproductive disorders were significantly associated with psychological financial hardship (P=0.02 for both).
“Severe late effects that emerge early in life and disrupt education and training opportunities are a double hit for survivors,” Dr Huang said. “These health problems decrease the survivors’ earning mobility and financial security later in life. The phenomenon leaves them at risk for poor health and psychological outcomes compared to healthier survivors.”