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The Financial “Side Effects” of Cancer Survivorship

Cancer treatment can cause a variety of nutrition-related side effects, and recently, researchers are focusing on the social and financial “side effects” that come with survivorship. Cancer survivorship rates in the United States continue to increase, with a predicted 18.1 million survivors by 2020. Increased screening for potential work and finance-related challenges and promotion of resources for support—from diagnosis to long-term survivorship—are needed to promote optimal care in this growing population.

Work and Financial Disparities Among Cancer Survivors

Significant work and financial disparities exist among American cancer survivors, particularly among women, younger survivors, racial and ethnic minorities, and those without insurance, according to a recent study. The abstract was presented at the 2014 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in Boston, and will be published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Results showed that 37 percent of participants reported having to modify work plans, and 27 percent reported at least one financial problem. Those in active treatment reported 120 percent more financial difficulties than survivors who were less than five years post-treatment. This study is the first to explore financial burden disparities in a large, nationally representative group of cancer survivors. The findings, while still preliminary, emphasize the need for screening and support for work and financial challenges across the cancer survivorship trajectory.

Coping with Treatment-Related Financial Distress

Little is known about how patients cope with treatment-related financial distress, according to another study that was presented at the Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium. Results found that 89 percent of participants used at least one lifestyle-altering strategy—spending less on leisure activities, spending less on basics, borrowing money, or spending savings—to cope with costs. 39 percent of participants used a care-altering strategy—not filling a prescription or taking less medication than prescribed—to cope with costs. Younger patients and those with lower incomes were more likely to alter their care. The results of this study indicate that certain at-risk populations need to be targeted and screened to ensure they get the assistance and support they need.

Where to Turn for Resources and Support

Juggling the financial burdens of illness can severely affect quality of life. It is important to seek out support from resources and networks early on in treatment to better manage the social, work-related, and financial challenges of treatment and survivorship.

The organizations listed below may be a good starting point. Also be sure to talk with your health care providers for resources and information, and check with your disease specific advocacy groups for financial assistance and support networks.

  • Patient Services Incorporated (PSI) provides financial support and guidance for qualified patients with specific, rare chronic diseases. PSI facilitates positive health and well being in patients by subsidizing the costs of health insurance premiums and out of pocket costs like copayments and coinsurance, and providing a variety of legal services.

Stephanie Lang is completing her dietetic internship and M.S. degree in Nutrition Education at Teachers College, Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian.


Bankhead, Charles. Ca Survivors Struggle With Work, Money Problems. Med Page Today. October 22, 2014 http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AdditionalMeetings/48198 Accessed October 22, 2014.

Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Experiences with Cancer Survivorship Supplement. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/survivorship/what_cdc_is_doing/meps.htm Page last reviewed: May 28, 2014. Page last updated: June 12, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014.

Nipp R, Zullig L, Samsa G, Peppercorn J, Schrag D, Taylor D. Coping with cancer-treatment related financial burden. J Clin Oncol 32, 2014 (suppl 31; abstr 161) http://abstracts.asco.org/153/AbstView_153_137115.html

Whitney R, Bell J, Reed S, Davis A, Lash R, Kim K, et. al. Work and financial disparities among adult cancer survivors in the United States. J Clin Oncol 32, 2014 (suppl 31; abstr 238). http://abstracts.asco.org/153/AbstView_153_137778.html

Stephanie Forsythe MS, RDN, CNSC, CDN

Stephanie Forsythe MS, RDN, CNSC, CDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who works as a Clinical Dietitian and Nutrition Coordinator at a hospital in Brooklyn. She helps patients meet their nutritional needs during their stay in the intensive care units. Aside from developing recipe and blog content for Savor Health, Stephanie also has worked as pastry cook in California and New York City. Stephanie received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Teachers College Columbia University. She completed a Dietetic Internship and training through Teachers College.

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