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1 in 7 breast cancer patients report worsening personal finances



More than one in seven patients with breast cancer saw their financial status deteriorate within the first years after their diagnosis, a new study found. Factors like disease severity and treatment type didn’t seem to have an impact on financial status.

The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, were unexpected. “We were surprised that we did not find that patients who received more aggressive therapies were more likely to experience worsening financial concerns,” said corresponding author and medical oncologist Kathryn J. Ruddy, MD, of the Mayo Clinici in Rochester, Minn.

The study was undertaken to understand the financial stress facing patients with breast cancer. The question was whether individual or disease factors, or both, were at play.

The study is based on results from the Mayo Clinic Breast Disease Registry, a prospective cohort of patient who were at Mayo Clinic Rochester. Participants answered questions about their finances at baseline and then again at annual follow-ups.

Researchers examined survey findings from 1,957 patients (mean age 58.5, 99.1% female, 95.4% White, 54.9% bachelor degree or higher) who answered questions at least twice from 2015-2020. The average time between diagnosis and the most recent follow-up was 25.6 months.

Of the 1,957 patients, 357 (18.2%) said their finances deteriorated as measured by a 1 point or higher decline on a 10-point scale.

There was no statistically significant link between deteriorating finances and age, race, employment status, stage of cancer at diagnosis, type of cancer, or treatment type. There was a slight link between deteriorating finances and reporting that they were in the category of “pay bills, no money for special things” near diagnosis.

Other research has suggested that breast cancer may not disrupt finances to a large extent, at least early on. Earlier in 2022, Stanford (Calif.) University researchers reported the results of a survey of 273 breast and gynecologic cancer patients who were surveyed about their finances at a mean of 3.4 years after diagnosis. While one-third said their cancer caused career changes, the study described overall financial toxicity as mild.

In regard to limitations, the subject population of the new study is overwhelmingly White, and the finances were self-reported by those who participated in the survey. Also, “because our participants were recruited at a tertiary medical center, there were relatively financially secure at baseline,” Dr. Ruddy said. “More financial hardship would be expected in a more financially diverse population.”

In an interview, Cathy Bradley, PhD, associate dean for research at the University of Colorado at Denver and deputy director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, both in Aurora, praised the study as “an important start toward assessing financial burden in the clinic. Having more universal assessments in the clinic would remove stigma.”

She cautioned about interpreting a seemingly low number of patients whose financial situation worsened. “This was for a single site where there is a high rate of health insurance either through Medicare or Medicaid. There may be some selection bias as well given that Mayo may attract a wealthier patient population. Most women completed treatment and may not have been on long-term therapies.”

Moving forward, Dr. Ruddy said, “we hope to study cost of oncologic care in more geographically and financially diverse populations with breast cancer and other cancers.”

The study was funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and National Cancer Institute. The study authors and Dr. Ruddy report no relevant disclosures.

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