Financial toxicity of cancer may impact partner’s quality of life
A recent study published in JAMA Network Open showed that the financial impact of a patient’s cancer diagnosis may also impact a partner’s health-related quality of life.
Financial difficulty or toxicity is an important effect of cancer and its treatment is linked to poor health issues for patients and survivors. It can also extend to caregivers or partners as well. The researchers involved in this study aimed to better understand how financial toxicity affects the caregiver’s / partner’s health outcomes, including anxiety and depressive symptoms, fatigue, overall quality of life, and well-being.
In the study, researchers surveyed patients who had been treated 1-5 years prior for stage III colorectal cancer (CRC). The patients’ spouses, domestic partners, or significant others who lived with them were also surveyed. A total of 307 responses were received. Patients and their partners were surveyed about the following topics: financial burden, such as cutting down on spending or missing bill payments; debt, including unpaid bills, bank loans, or borrowed money from family and friends; financial worry, focused on current or future financial problems from the cancer treatment; and health-related quality of life factors such as physical function, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, social roles, and activities, and pain.
Among the partners who worked full- or part-time when the patient was diagnosed, 39% of them reported missing between 1 week and 1 month of work. 38% reported that they lost income due to their partner’s cancer.
Over 60% of partners reported experiencing financial burdens requiring them to cut down on expenses, activities, food, or clothes. About 30% of partners had high levels of financial worry, which was worsened with increasing lost income or missed work. 29% of partners reported experiencing debt related to the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Younger partners were significantly more likely to report financial burden and debt – an important concern considering that rates of CRC among younger adults have been on the rise in recent years.
With respect to the health-related quality of life factors (physical function, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, social roles and activities, and pain), financial toxicity was consistently associated with worse quality of life factors. Factors such as extra emotional spending, disrupted social lives, and a need to ask family and friend for help with medical bills were important contributors to partners’ and caregivers’ financial difficulties.
The study findings highlighted the importance of assessing financial hardship in both patients and their partners, particularly among younger individuals, and connecting them with the appropriate support services as soon as possible. Although the study took place in the US, Canadian patients living with cancer may experience similar financial difficulties associated with a cancer diagnosis; the study findings highlight important considerations for patients and caregivers regardless of where they live.