Awareness Month Highlights Breast Cancer Disparities & Access Challenges

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, celebrated this October, invites public dialogue about screening, risk factors and the value of early detection. But it may also present an opportunity to discuss disparities, financial toxicity, and cancer patients’ access to appropriate care and treatment.

recent study from the Avon Foundation for Women identified a growing racial disparity in breast cancer mortality. The study revealed that African American women are 43 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than Caucasian women are. Researchers noted that lack of early detection, late stage diagnosis, and delayed treatment could all be contributing factors, though more research is needed.

One reason for delayed treatment, regardless of ethnicity, may be the out-of-pocket cost burden that many cancer patients face. A recent report in the journal Cancer found that, for 14,000 breast cancer patients between 2008 and 2012:

  • Patients faced on average about $3,000 in out of pocket expenses each year
  • The “top” 10 percent of patients faced bills costing them $10,000
  • Expenses across a single class of drugs varied by as much as $46,000
  • Patient with low-premium, high deductible health plans paid the most out of pocket.

Sharon Giordano, MD, lead author of the study, explained to NBC News that patients would skip treatments to try and manage costs. “If they have a higher co-pay and it costs more,” she noted, “then they are less likely to take it.”

Dr. Giordano also acknowledged that trying to plan for costs by determining what insurers cover and what each hospital or physician’s office charges can be difficult.

To learn more about the effect of cost sharing on cancer patients, read “Protecting Cancer Care.”

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