Stress over medical finances tied to worse outcomes for some cancer patients, study finds

Head and neck cancer patients who reported high levels of financial worry, or financial toxicity, at the start of treatment were about twice as likely to have worse outcomes, according to research findings published in the April 2021 edition of Oral Oncology.

Researchers from Buffalo, N.Y.-based Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center surveyed 284 patients with head and neck cancers to assess their quality of life before and after treatment. The responses were then evaluated in comparison with patients' clinical outcomes.  

"The association we found was very strong, very concerning," said Anurag Singh, MD, senior study author. "If you are worried about your finances, your risk of dying is roughly double." 

Researchers performed both multivariable and matched-pair analyses. Results showed those who reported the highest levels of financial toxicity at the start of treatment had worse outcomes in terms of both overall survival and cancer-specific survival. 

A matched-pair analysis of 66 patients found those with financial toxicity had worse overall survival outcomes, with a hazard ratio of 2.72 and worse cancer-specific survival, with a hazard ratio of 3.75. 

"We want everyone to be aware of these impacts," Dr. Singh said. "Doctors should consider how financial toxicity may be impacting their patients, and do everything we can to improve our patients' quality of life, and we want to encourage patients to take advantage of financial counseling and every other resource that can lessen their burden." 

Researchers chose to focus on those with head and neck cancers for this study due to the intense treatment demands, leaving patients of these cancers more likely to experience high levels of financial burden.


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