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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Addressing the ‘blind spot’ in the cancer care system

Health Industry Hub | July 31, 2023 |

Pharma News: Cancer patients face an uphill battle, not just against their illness, but also against a lesser-known adversary: financial toxicity. According to researchers from UNSW Sydney, these escalating financial burdens need to be brought to the forefront of discussions surrounding cancer care.

Dr Jordana McLoone, from UNSW Medicine & Health and the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, defines financial toxicity as the adverse impact stemming from the overwhelming cost of cancer treatments. It encompasses both direct expenses related to treatment and indirect out-of-pocket costs for care, follow-up appointments, and potential loss of income due to time off work.

Inequities in financial toxicity primarily affect people residing outside metropolitan areas and those already in vulnerable financial situations. As the cost of living continues to rise in Australia, an increasing number of cancer patients are likely to suffer from this debilitating issue.

Surprisingly, financial toxicity remains a “blind spot” within the cancer care system, according to Dr. McLoone. To address this pressing concern, she has been leading research efforts as part of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Financial Toxicity Working Group. The group aims to understand how healthcare professionals perceive and approach financial toxicity and to develop innovative solutions to tackle the problem head-on.

A recent nationwide survey, led by Dr McLoone and Professor Louisa Gordon from QIMR Berghofer, revealed that 88% of oncology healthcare professionals believe that discussions about financial toxicity are integral to providing high-quality care. However, 28 percent of these professionals struggle to address the topic due to time constraints during consultations and lack of information about available support services and resources.

Jessie Oldfield’s story serves as a poignant example of the financial hardships cancer patients endure. When she presented herself at the emergency department worried about pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy, she received a devastating diagnosis – cervical cancer. This launched her into a harrowing battle for survival, involving multiple rounds of costly radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Traveling to receive treatment added to Jessie’s financial woes. While she received some assistance from support organisations, she still had to bear significant out-of-pocket expenses for travel and accommodations. The treatments themselves were also exorbitant, as she had to access chemotherapy and radiotherapy through the private system.

While Jessie and her son Jack are now doing well, she fears the possibility of cancer’s return, uncertain if she can afford future treatments with the increased costs of living and her responsibilities as a single mother.

To address financial toxicity, Dr McLoone suggests healthcare professionals undergo training to effectively communicate with patients about this crucial aspect of cancer care. Listening, acknowledging, validating, and offering support are vital elements in this process.

Nonetheless, solving financial toxicity requires addressing complex systemic issues as well. Some cancer patients find themselves ineligible for crucial support, such as the Disability Support Pension, due to technicalities that overlook the ongoing nature of their illness.

With cancer patients facing dire decisions like choosing between life-saving treatments and basic necessities, the COSA Financial Toxicity Working Group is pushing for collaboration among government, healthcare providers, patients, and researchers. They hosted a National Think Tank earlier this year to pave the way for combating financial toxicity. By working together, they aim to develop real solutions that will alleviate the burdensome financial strain faced by cancer patients and their families.

As cancer treatments continue to advance, it is crucial to ensure that financial barriers do not hinder patients’ access to life-saving therapies. The fight against cancer should extend beyond medical treatments and encompass a holistic approach, addressing the financial burden that patients bear during their battle against this relentless disease.

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