New research from the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer shows that having breast cancer can lead to serious financial struggles, and that better communication from doctors might help ease this side effect.
50 percent of oncologists surveyed said someone in their practice always or often discusses the financial consequences of treatment with patients. But many patients said they haven't received enough help navigating the process, even though they'd like to be talking to their healthcare provider about it.
According to the study, the results of this lack of communication have been devastating. About 1 in 5 white women in the survey and 1 in 3 Latina women reported having to cut down on food spending to pay for medical costs. For black women, that figure was nearly fifty percent.
Reshma Jagsi is a professor and chair of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan. She led the team of researchers that worked on this study.
Jagsi says doctors are responsible for the overall welfare of the patient. That means not just their physical health, but their social and financial well-being, too.
“If I'm really doing my job, I'm not looking just at the clinical consequences of that treatment, but I'm more broadly focused on what the overall… toxicity might be for that particular patient.”
For some patients, this might mean a discussion about whether a treatment with high cost but few proven benefits is worth it.
Jagsi says that doctors weren’t taught this kind of communication in the past, but it's something they need to learn going forward. She also recommends arming physicians with contacts at resources in their community that can more directly help patients through the expenses of a serious illness.
“It's really not appropriate in this day and age, in a country as well off as ours, to have something as arbitrary as a medical diagnosis completely change one's financial situation,” she says.