Financial cost of cancer

Financial hardships can be an unexpected burden for cancer patients and caregivers alike. Nine out of 10 Canadian families battling cancer are battling financial debt and 91 per cent of cancer patients in Canada will suffer a loss of income or a rise in expenses.

In 2013, the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network conducted a members’ survey in which we asked cancer patients what they were most concerned about in their cancer journeys. The primary issues cited by patients was the financial burden of cancer and difficulties transitioning back into work.

Shock and frustration regarding the financial cost of cancer was a common theme among the many patients who responded to our survey:

“I had complications and multiple surgeries, which had me off work for three years. I was single, self-employed and had previous employment doing physical work as a home support worker. I had no money coming in and had to spend my savings to live for three years.”

“I received a very small amount of medical financial assistance from the government. I needed to have it supplemented by asking friends and family for assistance, as what the government paid wouldn’t even pay my rent. The government then said I could not receive ‘any’ funds if I was receiving assistance privately.”

“Even when you have a job and benefits, you still take a big hit financially, especially if you are the only wage earner. A lot of us have difficulties making ends meet while working, and when your salary is cut even further, it’s a major juggling act. Also, after cancer the cost of medications are very expensive. If there are changes made in your life that affects your medical plan, you are basically screwed and have to pay for your medications. Again, another juggling act. Do I take the medication and let other things slide, or take the chance that I will get cancer again if I don’t take the medication? In the end you still end up with financial difficulties.”

Caregiving and Financial Hardship

Furthermore, a recent Léger survey fielded by the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network shed new light on the devastating physical, emotional and financial hardship cancer puts on patients and their caregivers. 301 cancer patients and 201 caregivers participated in this survey, making it one of the largest caregiver surveys conducted in Canada. The survey aims to provide new and important information on the caregiver’s role in their loved ones’ cancer journeys.

The results of the survey indicate that caregivers too suffered heavily in lieu of a cancer diagnosis in a loved one. Caregivers reported more difficulties than patients in accessing treatment and essential medications, finding flexible work options and dealing with a significant loss of salary. While one-in-five patients experienced difficulty in finding flexible work options while battling cancer, nearly one-half of caregivers struggled to integrate care for loved ones into their work lives; making management of the disease and maintaining their income incredibly challenging.

The heavy involvement of caregivers in their loved one’s cancer journey points to the critical role they play as cancer care navigators and managers. There is an evident need to provide them, as well as patients, with physical, emotional and financial support.

This section of our website further explores the financial cost of cancer to Canadian patients, survivors and caregivers and provides resources and recommendations for patients and caregivers to help alleviate the cost.

Financial help
Key Informant Interview: A View From the Front Lines
Financial hardship of cancer in Canada: a call for action
Work and Cancer
The Financial Hardship of Cancer in Canada: A Literature Review