The financial toxicity of cancer treatment: a hidden burden for patients

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When Jessie Oldfield was diagnosed with cervical cancer while she was 23 weeks pregnant, she faced not only a physical and emotional battle, but also a financial one.

Her treatments were expensive, and traveling for treatment put additional strain on her finances.

Despite support from programs like Can Assist and the Isolated Patient Transport and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS), Oldfield still had to cover some travel and accommodation costs out of pocket.

After going through numerous rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, giving birth, and resuming treatment, Oldfield faced the harsh reality of cancer’s financial toxicity.

So overwhelming were the costs, Oldfield declared she wouldn’t undergo treatment if her cancer were to return.

Defining Financial Toxicity

Financial toxicity, as described by Dr. Jordana McLoone from UNSW Medicine & Health and the Kids Cancer Center at Sydney Children’s Hospital, goes beyond the direct costs of treatment.

It also encompasses the indirect out-of-pocket costs related to care and follow up, as well as potential loss of income if time off work is needed.

This burden is particularly heavy on individuals living outside of metropolitan areas and those already in financially precarious situations.

Uncovering and Addressing the Issue

In an effort to better understand and address this issue, Dr. McLoone, as part of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Financial Toxicity Working Group, has been conducting research to explore health care professionals’ perceptions of financial toxicity.

A nationwide survey involving 277 Australian healthcare professionals in the field of oncology revealed that while 88% of participants considered discussions about financial toxicity an important part of high-quality care, 28% said they struggled to have these discussions due to a lack of time, information about the topic, and inadequate support services and resources for patients.

Towards a Solution

While training for healthcare professionals could help them better discuss financial toxicity with patients, Dr. McLoone acknowledges the need to address more complex systemic issues.

Policies like those preventing cancer patients from applying for the Disability Support Pension because their illness is not considered “chronic” or “stable” need to be revisited.

Government, healthcare providers, patients, and researchers will need to collaborate to address these gaps in support.

In May this year, the COSA Financial Toxicity Working Group hosted a National Think Tank to develop a roadmap to combat financial toxicity.

The goal is to avoid forcing patients into untenable positions where they must choose between critical healthcare and basic necessities.

As this issue comes to light, there’s hope for developing real solutions that can ease the financial burden on cancer patients and their families.

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