The rising costs of healthcare are at the forefront of national debate. Oncology is symptomatic of this national trend. A cancer diagnosis comes with many concerns and problems, and the cost of treatment is an important variable to consider. Cancer care is the second most expensive medical condition in America, and these costs are projected to rise to $173 billion per year by 2020 .
As cancer treatments and technologies improve, patients are living longer and need more care. This trend drives up costs across the board. Recent research in the oncology field shows that the financial concerns of cancer patient are a hidden risk factor in oncology treatments .
Financial toxicity is the term experts use to describe how treatment costs affect an individual's healing process and wellbeing. Out of pocket expenses are akin to a physical toxicity for a subset of oncology patients. They can impede delivery of high quality care and can diminish quality of life. Financial toxicity is often broken down into two categories; Objective Financial Burden and Subjective Financial Distress.
Objective Financial Burden describes the out-of-pocket costs of cancer treatment, and the impact of these costs on care obtained and maintained. These costs include "hard costs" like paying for transportation, co-pays, insurance premiums, etc. These costs are increasing, and they can be prohibitively high.
Subjective Financial Distress considers the mental aspect of cancer diagnosis. The financial burden of oncological care creating a stressor that inhibits the healing process. A study found that 37% of patients are "seriously" or "very seriously" concerned about bankrupting their family, and that 55% of patients are "not at all prepared" to handle the financial burden of cancer . This creates a level of stress that is not conducive to healing.
Both the objective financial burden and the subjective financial distress of Financial Toxicity create barriers to healing. Studies show that prohibitively high costs cause 30% of oncology patients to delay filling prescriptions for cancer medications and cause 22% of patients to skip doses of medication. High costs also lead to cutbacks in other necessary expenses, like a healthy diet, regular exercise options and other general health maintenance activities . Financial toxicity also prevents cancer patients and caregivers from participating in other helpful alternative therapies like yoga, massages, or personal relaxation and vacation. Intense financial distress leads to a 78% increase in mortality . A cancer diagnosis is a mental challenge in itself. Financial distress adds a complicating factor to an already difficult struggle.