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Bankruptcy Rates Markedly Greater for Cancer Survivors

August 2011 Vol 4, No 4, Special Issue

Surviving is just one hurdle for cancer survivors. A new study funded by the National Cancer Institute shows that the risk of bankruptcy is a serious threat for those who survive cancer and increases along with the length of survival.

“On average, bankruptcy rates increased 4-fold within 5 years of diagnosis,” said the study’s lead investigator, Scott Ramsey, MD, PhD, a healthcare economist and internist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA.

Dr Ramsey and colleagues linked Wash ington state cancer registry data from nearly 232,000 adult cancer survivors with federal bankruptcy court records in 13 western Washington counties. “By linking 2 irrefutable government records of cancer and bankruptcy, we are able to determine how financial insolvency risk varies by cancer type, treatment, and other factors,” he said.

The rate of bankruptcy after a first cancer diagnosis was measured, and factors that increased bankruptcy risk among people with common cancers were identified. After a mean followup of 4.3 years, 2.1% of the cancer survivors filed for bankruptcy.

Compared with the bankruptcy rate among the general population, the rate among cancer survivors was almost doubled 1 year after diagnosis, and the median time to bankruptcy was 2.5 years after cancer diagnosis.

Bankruptcy risk varied widely across cancer types. The risk was highest for patients with lung cancer, thyroid cancer, and leukemia/ lymphoma.

Patients aged >65 years, who are typically covered by Medicare, had a much lower risk of bankruptcy than younger patients. “Patients diagnosed with cancer may face significant financial stress due to income loss and out-of-pocket costs associated with their treatment,” said Dr Ramsey.

Last modified: August 30, 2021