During that indescribable moment when you first learn that you have cancer, many of us experienced a virtual avalanche of thoughts, worries, and raw emotions–or, for some of us, everything came to a standstill, and a thick fog seemed to drop from the sky, blocking all sounds and sights. Or somehow, due to the mystery that is the human brain, both may simultaneously occur, as it did in my case with both of my cancer diagnoses. When I received my first cancer diagnosis, my initial thoughts were stark terror, confusion, denial, the wish to turn back the clock, intense fear that I wasn’t strong enough to handle the pain and terrible side effects that may come with my treatment, a sense that I’d ultimately get through this, deep panic that maybe I was wrong–and then came the self-protective haze to help cocoon me from these far too troubling worries. But one thought that didn’t come to mind was concern that I wouldn’t be able to pay for the costs of my treatment. After all, I was fortunate in that I’d just started working full-time shortly after graduating from college, and I was confident that my insurance would immediately provide coverage for these costs. Silly girl: oh, how wrong I was.
For this month’s special edition of Evidence-Based Oncology’s “Cost and Value Edition,” I was asked to contribute a piece from my patient perspective concerning the financial toll that cancer treatment takes on so many patients. As I began to compose the article, I found myself describing a soul-shattering confrontation I had with my insurance company as a stage III Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient at the age of 22–an experience I’ve never written about before since it was so upsetting, yet one that almost certainly will resonate with many of you who have been diagnosed with cancer. But as I note in this piece, as terrible as that experience was, so many cancer survivors have gone through–and more and more are currently experiencing–far worse. Because the fact is that due to the ever increasing costs of cancer treatments, particularly in this genomic era when the cost of one targeted agent may be upwards of $10,000 per month, such rising costs together with increasingly restrictive health insurance coverage, expensive deductibles, and increasing specialty visit and drug co-pays have created “financial toxicity,” an adverse effect with serious implications that may lead to changes in treatment-related decision-making, higher rates of nonadherence with oral chemotherapy drugs, and decreased overall quality and, potentially, length of life.
As I noted in the article, during this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, I was struck by the fact that the phrase “financial toxicity” suddenly appeared to be on everyone’s lips. I remember appreciating that this very real adverse effect of cancer treatment finally had a name—yet also thinking that though the term may be new, the condition itself was not. Importantly, however, the crucial difference now is that an increasing number of oncologists, patients, advocates, and other stakeholders are speaking about this openly, honestly, and effectively and actively working on measures to prevent or better manage this serious toxicity of cancer. Please click here to read my patient perspective in this month’s edition of Evidence-Based Oncology: “Financial Toxicity: a New Term, but Not a New Reality for Many Cancer Patients.” And please consider sharing your thoughts here on this serious issue.