Half of breast and lung cancer sufferers facing financial stress as they battle disease
People who have a job are suffering more financial stress after being diagnosed with cancer than those who are not in employment, a new study has revealed.
Overall, nearly one in two people diagnosed with breast or lung cancer said the disease led to difficulties making ends meet, and it was particularly strong for those who were already under financial pressure before becoming ill.
The study, led by the National Cancer Registry, looked at 744 cancer survivors who had been diagnosed with the disease three to 24 months previously.
It showed the most severe economic impact was also felt most by people with mortgages or personal loans, those who had dependants, had higher out-of-pocket expenses and increased household bills.
People who were in jobs were more likely to have suffered a drop in disposable income at a time when they were incurring direct and indirect costs as a result of having cancer.
"In this study only half of those who worked for an employer and took time off received sick pay and although some received benefits, it is unlikely that either sick pay or benefits compensated fully for lost income," said the study.
It pointed out that retired people with cancer had significantly reduced risk of financial stress and strain because they were less likely to have dependants, mortgages or personal loans and also had a greater chance of having a medical card.
"While many who are retired will have a more modest income than working people, it is unlikely that they will lose income after diagnosis, as pensions and benefits will continue to be paid."
The significantly lower financial stress and strain in people not in employment who were not retirement age was "unexpected", said the study's authors, Linda Sharp and Aileen Timmons.
"We did not know the reasons why people were not working or whether they wanted to be economically active. This group was predominantly female and less often reported finding it difficult to make ends meet post-diagnosis. This suggests that some may have not have needed to work, perhaps having a husband or partner who supported them financially.
"On the other hand, more of this group reported being in receipt of benefits than other groups, suggesting that, like those who are retired, stability of income may help protect against cancer-related financial hardship."
The study, published in the journal 'Support Cancer Care', said three-quarters of respondents had direct out-of-pocket medical costs averaging €1,491 but as high as €4,053.
Nearly nine in 10 had other cancer-related costs of up to €7,559, and 57pc said their household bills went up.
It acknowledged that while most care is provided free in the public hospital system, there are other outgoings such as private GP fees and overnight stays in hospital.
Indirect costs can have a significant impact because people recuperating from treatment were more likely to be at home and feeling the cold, leading to higher heating bills.
Also they tended to use their phone more often to keep in touch with family and friends.
"Cancer-related financial hardship appears to be a reality for a notable proportion of survivors in many healthcare settings. It therefore requires greater recognition as important (consequences) of cancer," said the authors.
They said that almost one in five of those who stated that it was easy for their household to make ends meet pre-diagnosis reported cancer-related financial strain.
"This highlights that it is not only those with more limited financial circumstances who are at risk of adverse financial outcomes due to cancer."
There is accumulating evidence that financial hardship among survivors is associated with poorer psychological well-being, lower quality-of-life and delay in cancer treatment, the authors pointed out.
Patients who are diagnosed with cancer and are over the income limit for a medical card can apply for a discretionary card.
Following last year's controversy over cuts in discretionary medical cards, there appears to be evidence that it is now easier to get one.
The authors hoped the study's findings can inform the development of tools to identify patients who are most in need of financial advice and support.