The Financial Hardship of Cancer in Canada: A Literature Review

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 39 per cent of Canadian women and 45 per cent of men will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Besides the physical and emotional hardship a cancer diagnosis brings to an individual and her family, financial burden is incurred.

In order to complete this literature review, 38 articles were reviewed; 30 of which were written by Canadians. The findings revealed that there are certain groups of people with cancer who are at-risk to incur a significant financial burden due to their cancer diagnosis.

The first group identified was individuals/families with high out-of-pocket expenses relative to their income. These out-of-pocket expenses are often incurred by rural residents who need to travel for their treatments; people not covered with private insurance and/or who work seasonal, part-time or are self-employed; people with high drug costs; and those with a significant loss of salary.

Secondly, individuals/families with low-income and/or no disability insurance incurred financial hardship as they have limited resources to pay for out-of-pocket expenses and may not be eligible for private or supplemental insurance.
The third group at-risk for financial hardship is parents with children who have cancer. In order to care for their child, many parents are unable to work, which decreases the family income at the same time as expenses increase if they need to travel for treatment, pay for accommodation or make childcare arrangements for siblings.

Compassionate caregivers to people in the palliative phase of cancer incur similar financial hardship as parents of children with cancer. They too may need to take a leave from work and take-on more of a financial burden as they care for a loved one in the final phase of cancer.

The fifth group recognized to be at-risk of incurring financial burden was adolescents and young adults with cancer. These individuals are at the early stages of financial independence and a cancer diagnosis may prevent them from maintaining it. Adolescents and young adults often require intensive treatments, which are expensive, especially if they do not have adequate private insurance.

Finally, persons with cancer receiving multiple modality treatments are at-risk because of high drug costs, long and intense treatments, and the loss of salary.

The literature provided many recommendations to address the problem of economic hardship incurred by people with cancer. There is both the potential and the responsibility to implement these solutions. Working together, the federal government, provincial healthcare systems, non-profit organizations, clinicians, communities, families and individuals can make a difference.

To read the entire literature review, click here.