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Coping With the Financial Burden of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Coping With the Financial Burden of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Suggestions of where to find information about financial aid, co-pay assistance, and ways of lowering the cost of MBC care.

In addition to the emotional and physical challenges a person must face when living with metastatic breast cancer, there are also the financial challenges. Medications, treatments, appointments with healthcare providers, and scans to monitor the disease can be expensive, even for those with health insurance. Metastatic breast cancer also impacts a person’s ability to work and earn income, which can further add to financial burden.

The potential repercussions for this are serious. Some people may skip treatments or appointments because of monetary concerns. Studies also show that many cancer patients in the United States go into debt—and some file for bankruptcy—due to the medical costs associated with the disease. The term sometimes used for the financial hardship resulting from a medical diagnosis is “financial toxicity.”

If you or someone close to you is living with metastatic breast cancer and concerned about the cost of treatment and the financial impact of the disease, know that you are not alone. Many people with MBC face these same concerns, and there are people and organizations you can look to for help. Below are a few suggestions on where to get started.

Oncology social workers
Oncology social workers are an important part of cancer care teams. They are licensed professionals who help patients navigate numerous aspects of cancer treatment, including finances. Hospitals and cancer care centers often employ oncology social workers as part of a cancer care team. There are also organizations that pair patients with oncology social workers. CancerCare (cancercare.org) is one example.

An oncology social worker can help you understand the resources available to you. Some topics you may want to discuss include:

  • State and federal assistance programs. Some government organizations offer medical financial assistance to qualified patients.
  • Co-pay discounts. Some pharmaceutical companies offer discounted prices on medications to qualified patients.
  • Tax deductible medical expenses. If total medical expenses for the year exceed a certain percentage of a person’s income, those medical expenses may be tax deductible. Patients may want to work with a CPA or a tax preparation expert to ensure they are receiving all deductions they are qualified for. An oncology social worker may be able to provide you with more information, and help you keep track of the paperwork that you may need when filing taxes.

An oncology social worker can also help you communicate with your healthcare team, find a support group, arrange transportation to appointments, and keep your medical records up to date and organized.

Advocacy organizations
There are a number of organizations that advocate for people with breast cancer, including metastatic breast cancer. Some offer information about the financial aspects of treating cancer, and some provide financial aid for people who need help covering the cost of treatment or other expenses related to cancer. The website of the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (cancerfac.org) is a useful resource, which allows you to search for local organizations based on your specific needs.

Support groups
It’s been said before but bears repeating—the only people who truly understand what it's like to live with a diagnosis of MBC are other people who have MBC. One of the best ways to connect with other people who have MBC is through a support group. A support group is an organized gathering for people who share a common experience. Some support groups meet in person, while others meet online, over direct messaging and video chat.

As the name implies, one of the major benefits of a support group is the emotional and social support one gets from connecting with others who are living with MBC. Support groups can also be a valuable source of information, and you may find others who have knowledge to share about things like co-pay assistance and places to apply for financial aid.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

Sources:
Helen Blumen, MD, MBA, Kathryn Fitch, RN, MEd, and Vincent Polkus, MSEM, MBA. "Comparison of Treatment Costs for Breast Cancer, by Tumor Stage and Type of Service." American Health and Drug Benefits, 2016. Vol. 9, No. 1.
Margaret Rosenzweig, Marlene West, et al. "Financial Toxicity Among Women With Metastatic Breast Cancer." Oncology Nursing Forum, 2019. Vol. 46, No. 1.
Peter Moore. "The High Cost of Cancer Treatment." AARP The Magazine. June 1, 2018.
Adrienne M. Gilligan, PhD, David S. Alberts, MD, Denise J. Roe, DrPH, Grant H. Skrepnek, PhD. "Death or Debt? National Estimates of Financial Toxicity in Persons with Newly-Diagnosed Cancer." The American Journal of Medicine, 2018. Vol. 131, No. 10.
National Cancer Institute. "Financial Toxicity and Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version."
Matthew P. Banegas, Gery P. Guy, Jr., et al. "For Working-Age Cancer Survivors, Medical Debt And Bankruptcy Create Financial Hardships." Health affairs (Project Hope), 2016. Vol. 35, No. 1.
Kristina Gaddy. "Why Would Cancer Patients Stop Treatment? Money." OZY. August 11, 2019.
Debt.org. "Financial Help for Cancer Patients."
Social Work Degree Guide. "5 Job Duties of an Oncology Social Worker."
CancerCare. "The Value of Oncology Social Workers."
Oncology Nurse Advisor. "Sources of Financial Assistance."
CancerCare. "Sources of Financial Assistance."
MBCalliance. "MBC Patient Info & Support Services."
IRS.gov. "Topic No. 502 Medical and Dental Expenses."
BreastCancer.org. "Tax Deductions for Treatment."

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