From the Journals

Cost a factor in breast cancer treatment decisions



Treatment costs are a significant factor in women’s decision making around breast cancer surgery, investigators reported.

With the health care costs of breast cancer estimated to reach $20 billion by 2020 in the United States, many of those costs are being shifted onto patients themselves, wrote Rachel A. Greenup, MD, from Duke University, Durham, N.C., and coauthors in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

“This financial hardship is now recognized as a major adverse effect of cancer care and has been associated with reduced quality of life, nonadherence, and an increased risk of early mortality,” they wrote.

Researchers surveyed 607 women with a history of breast cancer to examine the impact that cost had on their decisions about surgery and what financial harm they had experienced after breast cancer surgery.

Overall, 43% of women said they considered costs when making decisions about breast cancer treatment, 28% said cost influenced their decision making around breast cancer surgery, and 14% said costs were extremely important in that decision.

Women in the lowest income bracket – earning at or below $45,000 per year – identified cost as the most influential factor in their decision about breast cancer surgery, above loss of sensation, breast preservation or appearance, the need for long-term surveillance, or avoiding radiation.

However, more than three-quarters of women said they never discussed costs with their medical team.

Bilateral mastectomy, with and without reconstruction, was associated with higher patient-reported out-of-pocket costs, higher debt, higher rates of cancer-induced financial hardship, and higher rates of altered or reduced employment, compared with breast-conserving surgery.

More than one-third of participants reported significant to catastrophic financial burden because of their breast cancer care.

Even in the highest income brackets, two-thirds of women were financially unprepared for the cost of treatment, and 26% said their treatment costs were higher than expected.

The authors commented that “cost transparency” was uncommon between oncologically equivalent surgical treatments, “thus, patients with breast cancer may unknowingly be guiding therapeutic decisions that increase the risk of financial harm.”

“To date, patient out-of-pocket costs and subsequent risk of financial harm have not been routinely incorporated into shared decisions for breast cancer surgery, a process that has otherwise highly revered patient values,” they wrote.

The investigators suggested that revealing the greater risk for financial burden associated with treatments like bilateral mastectomy could help inform surgical treatment decisions.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Duke Cancer Institute. Six authors reported honoraria, research funding, prior employment, and other support from the pharmaceutical sector.

SOURCE: Greenup RA et al. J Oncol Pract. 2019 Jul 29. doi: 10.1200/JOP.18.00796.

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