Breast cancer patients weigh in on addressing financial burdens

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A qualitative study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health yielded nine patient-driven recommendations across circumstances that include changes to insurance, supportive services and financial assistance to reduce long-term, breast cancer-related economic burden.

U.S. breast cancer patients experience considerable economic burdens compared with those who have other types of cancer. The financial burdens are often exacerbated for patients who are managing treatment side effects, particularly breast cancer-related lymphedema, swelling of the arms or torso commonly caused by the removal of the lymph nodes during breast cancer surgery.

Over 250,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Lymphedema affects nearly 35 percent of U.S. breast cancer survivors, and results in an estimated $14,877 in out-of-pocket costs in the first two years of a diagnosis for patients who develop lymphedema. Previous research suggests that 10 years post-diagnosis, breast cancer survivors with lymphedema have over double the health care costs as those not affected by lymphedema.

“No one should have to make a choice between their health and their money. Yet breast cancer survivors face incredibly high prices that can lead to severe financial hardships, even bankruptcy,” says lead author Lorraine T. Dean, ScD, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology. “These recommendations offer ways to adapt a range of policies and practices that would make it more likely that breast cancer survivors can afford and attain the care they need.”

Previous studies of breast cancer patients focused on provider and insurer perspectives on reducing costs, but not the patient, notes Dean. “This study offered breast cancer survivors a voice to tell us what they think should be done to make their lives better,” says Dean.

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