Financial burden of cancer revealed

Patients facing crippling bills
  • Deborah Condon

A new report has revealed the massive financial burden that people with cancer have to deal with, with some facing additional costs of over €1,000 per month.

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has just released its second Real Cost of Cancer report, which shows that cancer patients are spending an average extra cost of €756 per month, rising to over €1,000 in some cases.

According to the report, the costs associated with a cancer diagnosis are "wide-ranging and often unexpected".

"Aside from the obvious costs of medical expenses and the significant outlay which many dealing with side-effects must face, there is a plethora of new or increased expenses cancer patients and their families must endure," the report stated.

These include:
-Medical expenses that cannot be claimed back, such as over-the-counter medication, GP visits, consultant appointments and Emergency Department (ED) charges
-Increases in day-to-day living expenses, such as household heating and electricity bills, and additional childcare
-Added costs during appointments and treatments, such as costs associated with travelling to and from these appointments and car parking charges
-One-off purchases, such as wigs, household modifications and specialist equipment for the home
-Additional personal care costs, such as specialist toiletries and additional clothing.

The report found that as a result of their diagnosis, cancer patients are losing an average of €18,000 a year in income, or over €1,500 per month. This makes it even more difficult to pay for these additional costs.

Speaking at the launch of the report, ICS chief executive, Averil Power said that cancer "is crippling people financially".

"Patients in Ireland devastated by a cancer diagnosis are then going on to really struggle to make ends meet. At a time where they should be focusing on their health and getting through their cancer treatment, they are worrying about bills stacking up.

"Most patients, and often their partners, are already suffering huge losses in income. This can result in people having to choose between paying hospital charges over putting the heating on. It could also mean choosing to buy medication over putting food on the table. Nobody should have to make that choice," Ms Power insisted.

Sinead Kealy from Donabate in Dublin was newly married and had recently given birth to her first child when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

"Besides thinking about how or if I would survive this diagnosis, things like heating costs, childcare, parking and food were a constant worry. It was a daily struggle to get by and I often had to turn to the credit card.

Altogether, Ms Kealy lost over €18,000 in earnings and built up a credit card debt of €12,000, which took years to pay back.

"It was like being hit by a bus. It changed my life completely. I live in fear of my cancer returning because I honestly don't know how I would cope again financially," she said.

The ICS is calling on the Government to tackle this issue, so that "no-one is more worried about bills mounting up than they are about getting better".

"We need the Government to stop the endless charges it levies on cancer patients. We need better access to medical cards and a greater appreciation of the huge financial strain of having cancer.

"The double whammy of increased costs and loss of income needs to be taken into account when considering what cancer patients can reasonably bear. The ICS will continue to push Government so that a more compassionate and understanding approach is taken," Ms Power added.

The report can be viewed here.


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