The Financial Burden of Breast Cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby


One in every 8 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.   Treatment options, new drugs, surgical advances and breast reconstruction options are all commonly discussed within the breast cancer community. A topic that is not discussed enough is the financial burden, or ‘financial toxicity’ that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis. Financial toxicity is defined as the impact of direct and indirect health care costs that lead to significant financial burden for patients and their caregivers, resulting in increased psychosocial distress, diminished patient outcomes, and a poorer quality of life.

Breast cancer treatment plans can consist of a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery to remove the cancer (lumpectomy or mastectomy), and breast reconstruction.  Ideally, patients work closely with their medical team using the process of shared decision-making to determine which plan best fits their individual diagnosis, situation, preferences and goals.  However, for many patients, treatment decisions are influenced not by their medical team’s recommendations, but more by the associated costs.

In a published survey of over 600 women, 28% admitted the cost of treatment influenced their treatment decisions.  35% also reported having financial hardships following the completion on their breast cancer treatments. 78% of responders never even discussed costs with their cancer team. These findings likely underestimate the severity of financial toxicity associated with breast cancer due to the lack of diversity within the survey.

A recent analysis of published studies found that few cancer survivors receive financial information and support from healthcare facilities during their initial treatment, despite the widespread impact of cancer-related costs on patients’ health and quality of life.

It should not be assumed that the financial hardship caused following a cancer diagnosis is limited to those without insurance. Even with insurance, high out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer patients can include copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance responsibilities. Cancer treatment can also affect individuals and their care taker’s ability to work, reducing household incomes.  For patients who must travel long distances for their cancer care, travel related costs (such as gas, hotel, food, flights) can also add up very quickly.

How can you reduce the financial burden of breast cancer?      

1. Discuss costs with your medical team up front.

It is important when discussing treatment options with your healthcare team to be aware of up-front and out-of-pocket costs.  Being prepared before beginning treatment can help you plan and budget for the additional costs.

2. Research options that may help you maximize your existing insurance.

Speaking with your HR department or a hospital financial adviser may provide insight to options available to help you get the most out of your insurance, including help with deductibles and co-pays. One such example is the Patient Advocate Foundation.

3. Reach out to non-profit organizations.

There are many national and local breast cancer organizations providing financial assistance to patients (and their families) in need.  To find organizations in your area, talk with your medical team and check out the financial assistance tab in the Resources section within the Breast Advocate App – download it here.