Money should be the last thing on your mind when dealing with cancer but for too many patients it's a major source of stress.
A range of costs add up during diagnosis, treatment and recovery and they vary depending on cancer type, stage and treatment options. For example, a person diagnosed with early-stage cancer may only have surgery, while a person diagnosed with a blood cancer may have long-term treatments. It is difficult for patients to know what to expect.
About 27 per cent of cancer patients currently pay $10,000 or more, and almost everyone pays for costs such as diagnostic tests. But out-of-pocket costs are just one part of the broader problem of financial toxicity.
Simply accessing health services comes at a cost: there's transport, parking, accommodation, and child care to consider. On top of this, patients are often dealing with the stress of paying everyday household bills while being too sick to earn an income. Their partner/carer also often reduces work hours to care for them, further adding to the financial burden.
Too often we hear of patients making decisions based on what they can and can't afford, rather than what's best for their medical condition. People affected by cancer borrow money, access superannuation early, sell investments or their homes, re-mortgage assets, or increase a credit card limit to meet treatment costs or everyday living expenses.
The sobering reality is that Australia's poorest socio-economic groups are 37 per cent more likely to die of cancer than those in the highest.
Your chances of surviving cancer shouldn't be determined by your bank balance or postcode.
In the last financial year alone, Cancer Council WA provided more than $245,000 in financial assistance to West Australian families affected by cancer. This is just a snapshot of the issue as not everyone feels comfortable reaching out for help, or knows it's an option. And, ultimately, as not-for-profit reliant on donations, we can't afford to help everyone financially.
What we can do is try to fix the processes that compound the problem.
Cancer Council Australia has joined forces with Breast Cancer Network Australia, CanTeen and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia to propose a standard for informed financial consent as a key component of delivering quality care.
Improving transparency up front about treatment options, charges and expected out-of-pocket costs across the entire journey can enable patients to be more engaged in conversations with their doctors.
Thankfully, Australia has some of the highest cancer survival rates in the world, but we need to make sure we're doing all we can to ensure surviving cancer doesn't leave patients with debilitating debt.
If you, or anyone you know has questions about treatment, our financial assistance program, or any of our supportive care services, phone our qualified Cancer Nurses on 13 11 20.
Article written by Melanie Marsh, Director of Cancer Information and Support Services, Cancer Council WA. It was originally published in Medical Forum.
View a draft of the Standard for Informed Financial Consent.