Booster Shots

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Care so costly, some cancer patients choose to opt out

October 14, 2008 | 11:59 am

There's a link between how much money people make and their decisions to curb treatment, even in the late stages of cancer. An e-mail survey of 1,767 adults currently being treated for cancer found 569 respondents with late-stage cancer. Of those, 12% said they passed up recommended treatment because it was too expensive. The survey was reported in today's USA Today.

But within that group of late-stage cancer patients, the decision to stop treatment varied considerably by income group. Of patients who earn less than $40,000 a year, 25% passed up potentially life-lengthening or enhancing treatment because it was too expensive. Among those earning $40,000 to $80,000 a year, about 11% chose not to undergo recommended treatment, and for those earning more than $80,000 a year, only about 5% chose to quit treatment.

And, as though cancer itself isn't distressing enough, 65% of late-stage cancer patients said the out-of-pocket cost of treating their disease caused them distress. And 77% of those earning less than $40,000 were feeling distress because of o their co-payments and deductibles.

"The physical and emotional burden of illness is not the only challenge cancer patients face," said Bill Marder, senior vice president of Thomson Reuters, which conducted the survey. "Many also struggle to cope with medical costs. This survey shows that the cost of cancer treatment is affecting patients' ability to get the care they need."

Between 1995 and 2004, the cost of treating cancer rose by 75%, according to a 2008 report from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The increase is due, in part, to people surviving longer and to the cost of new, life-saving therapies. But, as some cancer patients discover, new therapies can't help if they can't afford to pay for them.

-- Susan Brink