This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 14, 2014.
Two studies out this spring confirm what many breast cancer survivors already know: The disease takes a toll on finances as well as health.
One in 4 women reported being worse off financially four years after beginning breast cancer treatments, and nearly 1 in 3 who were working at the time of diagnosis were unemployed four years later. Researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center published these findings after surveying more than 1,500 patients in Detroit and Los Angeles.
Employed patients who received chemotherapy treatments were 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed four years later, compared with breast cancer patients who didn’t have chemo. They were also more likely to report being worse off financially four years later.
The scientists note many patients take time off to cope with treatment side effects, making it difficult to stay in the workforce over time. Chemotherapy has also been linked to long-term fatigue, nerve damage and cognitive problems often called “chemo brain.” These conditions may make it tougher for women to return to their former jobs.
More than half of the cancer survivors who were unemployed four years after treatments said it was important for them to work, and 39 percent were looking for jobs. The Michigan researchers call on doctors to consider these results and identify patients who might be successfully treated without chemotherapy.
Here are the numbers:
The percentage of breast cancer survivors who said they were worse off financially four years after starting treatment.
The percentage of survivors who said they had medical debt four years after their treatments. Black and Latina women were more likely to be in debt than white women.
The median out-of-pocket expense for breast cancer treatments, according to the study. Seventeen percent of women reported paying more than $5,000 out of pocket.
The percentage of breast cancer survivors who were working at the time of their diagnosis and were unemployed four years later. Thirty-eight percent of women who received chemotherapy treatments were jobless, compared to 27 percent who didn’t have chemo.