Cancer Survivors Face Rising Odds for Filing Bankruptcy

A study compared federal bankruptcy court records to cancer registry data from almost 232,000 adult cancer cases in Western Washington over a 14-year period has found that survival has a hidden cost. The longer a cancer patient survives, insolvency rates increase.

Scott Ramsey, MD, PhD, who led the study said, "Patients diagnosed with cancer may face significant financial stress due to income loss and out-of-pocket costs associated with their treatment. On average, bankruptcy rates increased fourfold within five years of diagnosis." He presented the findings June 6 at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

The study found that bankruptcy rates were nearly twice as high among cancer patients one year after diagnosis when compared to the general population. The median time to bankruptcy is two and a half years after diagnosis.

Researchers linked Washington state cancer registry data with federal bankruptcy court records from 13 western Washington counties.

Ramsey and colleagues found that bankruptcy risks vary widely across cancer types. Those at the highest risk for filing are lung, thyroid, and leukemia/lymphoma patients. Patients over 65, who usually are on Medicare, have a much lower risk of bankruptcy. The researchers also found that bankruptcies filed by cancer patients have increased significantly since the U.S. recession began.

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