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Breast Cancer Side Effect Has Lasting Financial Impact

A recent study published in the Journal of Supportive Care in Cancer reported that the long-term financial burden of breast cancer can be exacerbated by lymphedema, a type of swelling that occurs due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid after lymph node damage or removal as a part of cancer treatment.

The researchers surveyed 129 breast cancer survivors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania regarding cancer treatment factors, insurance, comorbid conditions, and economically burdensome events since cancer diagnosis. They also asked the survivors to complete prospective monthly out-of-pocket expense diaries over a period of 12 months. In addition, 40 of the survivors completed in-person semi-structured interviews. Nearly half (46.5%) of the survivors had lymphedema.

Results from the study showed that the average annual health-related out-of-pocket expenses totaled $2,306 for breast cancer survivors with lymphedema, a substantially higher amount than the $1,090 averaged by survivors without lymphedema. "Even 10 years after breast cancer treatment, women who have lymphedema have over double the yearly health care costs compared with women who don't have lymphedema," remarked Lorraine Dean, ScD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Nearly all of the survivors participating in the study had insurance, yet survivors' interviews indicated that inadequate insurance plan coverage of lymphedema-related needs contributed to the cost of their condition. Higher costs for patients with lymphedema delayed retirement and reduced both employment and the ability to access lymphedema care. Dr. Dean commented on the solution to this problem: "We need better policies to protect people from high costs, and that includes policies that offer more comprehensive insurance coverage for the aftereffects of cancer treatment."

For More Information

Dean LT, Moss SL, Ransome Y, et al (2018). "It still affects our economic situation": long-term economic burden of breast cancer and lymphedema. Support Care Cancer. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1007/s00520-018-4418-4

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