June 14th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Cancer survivors skipping medical care

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

Cancer survivors are more likely to forgo or delay medical treatment because of health care costs, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer.

Even though it puts their long-term health and well-being at risk, "two million U.S. cancer survivors did not get one or more medical services because of financial concerns,"  says study author Dr. Kathryn Weaver of the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. In general, she says, cancer survivors under the age of 65 were almost twice as likely to delay or forgo all types of care, compared with adults with no cancer history in the same age group.

Hispanic cancer survivors were most likely to skip treatment according to the study.  Hispanic and African American cancer survivors were more likely than whites to leave prescriptions unfilled or to forgo needed dental care.

"It reflects differences in insurance coverage in our country," Weaver says.     "The people over 65 are often covered by Medicare and have more consistent insurance coverage." But she says even people under 65 who had insurance coverage, would sometimes fail to seek treatment when they needed it.

7.8 percent of the cancer survivors in the study say they didn't get the medical care they needed. When researchers also considered prescriptions and dental and mental care, the rate went up to 17.6 percent.

The study involved more than 6,000 adult cancer survivors nine years after diagnosis and 100,000  people with no history of cancer. Participants were asked to self-report if there was a time they needed medical care within the last year when they didn't get it because of cost concerns. The study did not specifically ask what type of care the patients did not get.  "It's hard to say what it was about having cancer led to this," Weaver says. "We have known that cancer can have a negative impact on financial health. There are also employment differences that persist after diagnosis."

Because of their experience, Weaver says,  cancer survivors may have a more heightened sense of health and vulnerability and they might be more aware of symptoms indicating something more serious. She says they may perceive they need more care than the typical person, which may present more opportunities for financial fears to interfere with them getting the care they need.

Information for cancer survivors who may need help with medical expenses can be found here.

CNN Producer Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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