FRIDAY, March 28, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- One-quarter of breast cancer survivors are worse off financially four years after their diagnosis, and 12 percent still have medical debt from their cancer therapy, a new study finds.
"As oncologists, we are proud of the advances in our ability to cure an increasing proportion of patients diagnosed with breast cancer," study author Dr. Reshma Jagsi, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a university news release.
"But as treatments improve, we must ensure that we do not leave these patients in financial ruin because of our efforts," Jagsi said.
The study included more than 1,500 women in Detroit and Los Angeles who were surveyed nine months after getting a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer and again four years later. The women were asked if they had money trouble and, if so, how it affected them.
For example, did they have to skip prescribed medications, doctor's appointments or mammograms because of financial problems? Or were they unable to afford health insurance? Did they have their utilities turned off or were they forced to move out of their home?
One-fourth of the women said their financial situation had worsened, with Spanish-speaking Hispanics most likely to have experienced financial decline, according to the study, which was published online March 24 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Blacks and English-speaking Hispanics were more likely than whites to have money-related hardships. Other factors associated with an increased risk of such problems included being younger than 65, having an annual household income of less than $50,000, having only part-time work at the time of diagnosis, having fewer work hours after diagnosis and insufficient prescription-drug coverage.
Women who underwent chemotherapy and those with a breast cancer recurrence also were more likely to suffer financially, the study found.
"These patients are particularly vulnerable to financial distress," Jagsi said. "We need to ensure appropriate communication between patients and their doctors regarding the financial implications of a cancer diagnosis and treatment decisions to help reduce this long-term burden."
Susan G. Komen for the Cure has more about financial issues related to breast cancer.