Physicians don't see the financial distress of cancer treatments, study finds

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Physicians do not sufficiently recognize or address cancer patients' financial distress spurred by high treatment costs, according to a study published July 23 in Cancer. 

For the study, researchers surveyed 2,502 patients with early-stage breast cancer, along with 370 surgeons, 306 medical oncologist and 269 radiation oncologists overseeing their treatment.

Here are five survey findings:

1. About 50.9 percent of medical oncologists reported a colleague within their practice often or always discussing financial burden with patients, along with 43.2 percent of radiation oncologists and 15.6 percent of surgeons.

2. Many patients reported financial distress over treatment costs. About 27 percent of white patients, 58.9 percent of black patients, 33.5 percent of Latina patients and 28.8 percent of Asian patients said they were in debt after treatment.

3. Black patients (45.2 percent) most often reported having to lower food spending after treatment, followed by Latina patients (35.8 percent), Asian patients (22.5 percent) and white patients (21.5 percent).

4. Of the 945 women who worried about their finances, 72.8 percent reported their physicians and their staff did not help them. 

5. From the 523 women who wanted to talk to their providers about the financial impact of their breast cancer treatment, 55.4 percent reported having a helpful discussion.

"Many patients report inadequate clinician engagement in the management of financial toxicity, even though many providers believe that they make services available," the researchers concluded. "Clinician assessment and communication regarding financial toxicity must improve; cure at the cost of financial ruin is unacceptable."

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