Date Published: 7 July 2010

Patients and families from every social group incur hardship due to additional costs as a result of a cancer diagnosis

Health News from Ireland

The Irish Cancer Society & National Cancer Registry Ireland have recently launched a report about the financial and economic impact of a cancer diagnosis for patients and their families in Ireland.

Cancer patients and families experience financial hardship associated with seeing consultants, GPs or other healthcare professionals and buying medications to alleviate symptoms and side effects of treatment. The majority of patients have additional out-of-pocket expenses in relation to travelling to hospital appointments and increased utility bills because patients are at home more often than before their diagnosis from undergoing treatment or recuperating from surgery. These were some of the key findings in an in-depth study undertaken by the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society from 2007 - 2008.

More detailed financial implications of a cancer diagnosis reported were as follows:

  • Almost half (45%) of cancer patients had paid fees for a consultation with a hospitalclinician. More than one third (36%) had incurred costs for seeing a GP.
  • The average amount spent was €465 on consultants’ fees and €250 on GP’s fees. Almost one in 10 (9%) patients had paid for physiotherapy, 6% for counselling and 2% for other therapies, spending on average €300-€400 on each form of therapy. 15% had spent money on complementary therapies.
  • 29% of patients had incurred costs for prescription medications (on average €300) and 39% for over-the-counter medicines (€100 on average). 13% had paid for dietary supplements.
  • Among women with breast cancer, 40% had incurred costs for wigs or hairpieces, spending on average €400, and 5% had paid for manual lymph drainage.
  • Almost eight in every 10 (79%) cancer patients had costs in relation to transport to hospital appointments. 71% paid for travel and 52% for parking.
  • On average, these amounted to €360 and €75 respectively. The percentage with travel expenses fell with increasing patient age.
  • Of those who were working at the time of diagnosis, 83% took some time off. This figure was higher among those working for an employer (87%) than the self-employed (65%).
  • Of those who took time off, half received some sick pay - 63% of those working for an employer and 5% of the self-employed.
  • Almost one quarter of patients (23%) had claimed a new HSE or social welfare payment because of their cancer diagnosis. 38% had obtained a medical card following diagnosis.
  • Almost one third (30%) reported that their household income had decreased since their cancer diagnosis. This percentage was higher among women, younger patients, those who were working at diagnosis and those with dependants.
  • Household spending had increased as a result of the cancer diagnosis for almost half (47%) of patients - for 34% it had increased a little and for 13% it had increased a lot.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Linda Sharp, Epidemiologist, NCRI said

Patients in every socio-demographic group can be vulnerable to experiencing financial difficulties as a result of a cancer diagnosis. This vulnerability is a function of both their own financial and employment circumstances and the support available from family and friends. Our research also suggests that some groups of people may be particularly susceptible; this includes those with dependants, those who were working at the time of diagnosis, including the self-employed, and those who live in remote areas and have to travel long distances for treatment.

In the foreword to the report, Tony O’Brien, Chairman, NCRI wrote

In striving for higher quality and efficiency in our cancer services, we must never lose sight of the cost of cancer to the individual, be these physical, psychological or economic costs. As a society our overall response to cancer must seek to respond to all of these needs.

The report makes four main recommendations:

  • Great attention needs to be given to alleviating the financial costs of undergoing cancer treatment
  • Specific initiatives are needed to minimise the cost of travelling to hospital appointments
  • The self-employed should be encouraged to take out permanent health insurance and income protection
  • Employers should be encouraged to be more supportive of staff affected by cancer and to be clearer about their staff policies and provisions

Mairead Lyons, Head of Services, Irish Cancer Society said

The findings of the report shows that families are struggling to meet basic needs. In 2009 the number of people seeking financial help increased by 20%. In the last ten years the Society has seen a doubling in demand for financial assistance, paying out €3.5 million in grants in the last five years alone. The results of the report have shown an urgent need to review the supports and provisions available to cancer patients and families and we look forward to working with the Departments of Health and Finance, the HSE, the NCCP and other supportive agencies such as MABS in delivering on the recommendations contained in the report.

The research which led to the publication of this report titled ‘The financial impact of a cancer diagnosis’ focused on breast, prostate and lung cancer and was conducted in three stages:

  1. Stage one involved in-depth, face-to-face, interviews with key informants, namely 21 hospital-based Oncology Social Workers, based in 11 hospitals.
  2. Stage two involved in-depth, face-to-face, interviews with 20 cancer patients who had experienced additional costs, or financial difficulties, as a result of being diagnosed with cancer.
  3. Stage three involved a large postal survey of cancer patients: 740 patients diagnosed with breast or prostate cancer in the previous 6-24 months, or with lung cancer in the previous 3-21 months.

Access the Full Report:

You can download "The Financial Impact Of A Cancer Diagnosis" Report from by clicking here (PDF, 1.1MB, 128 pages)


Source: The Irish Cancer Society..

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