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.

soundoff (198 Responses)
  1. Tom

    In June 2004, I had liver cancer surgery, in February 2005, I had a liver transplant, in May 2006 I had half of my right lung removed, due to cancer. The anti-rejection drugs I take, (for my liver transplant) leave me suseptable to cancer.

    I am supposed to have a CT scan every year to see if any cancer has returned. Unfortunatly I have been unemployeed for 18 months. I pay my health insurance with credit cards, (so I can keep getting my very expensive anti-rejection meds). But my co-pay on a CT scan is almost $800.00. In spite of all the business that I have brought my hospital, they won't give me any breaks on CT scans.

    What happened to the Universal Health Care that we just spent hundreds of millions on? I am 58 years old, so I cannot get Medi Care, I am just stuck in the middle. If I stop paying my health insurance, I won't be able to get my immuno suppressants, and I will surely die. This is not a very happy prospect, and I don't see any options.

    June 14, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. cancer survivor

    b. taylor, your comment is stupid and you are clearly ignorant of the survival rates of cancer these days. There are far more than 30% surviving, and too many types of cancer to mention. All have different success rates, many very high.

    I believe that unless you have an advanced cancer where there are very strong statistics regarding recurrence, you probably don't need the every 3-4 month visits. I'm waiting until my next appointment to see what happens.

    June 14, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. parisrose

    I am a breast cancer survivor of 2 1/2 years and after all of my treatment have only this spring started to get my energy and "life" back. My follow-up mammos have been moved to once per year and i see the oncologist every three months. My primary doc wants me to have all sorts of testing like a colonoscopy, "well you're over 50 and 'just in case". NO NO NO. I need this year to return to living and feeling like a normal human. For this year I am cancer free and i need that, so i will forgo any other testing. And the insurance has nothing to do with this – i'm blessed with very good insurance through my work and very understanding bosses. And they also sort of like the "me" with energy and a brain that works.

    June 14, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. haj

    Mr. Garza, what are you talking about. I'm in the medical field and not once has once patient from Mexico has recieved free medical care. wake up dude,

    June 14, 2010 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Josie

    @bbal said "Many docs would stop ordering 6 month CTs as cancer follow ups if the occasional patient didn't sue the pants off of everyone for not having a CT scan every 6 months...this leads to defensive medicine and higher costs for everyone."

    I think this is why my oncologist is trying to get me to have the extra tests. He's afraid I'll relapse and blame/sue him. My GP asked how I'd feel if I had more cancer. I said I'd be furious at my body for betraying me yet again, but not at the Drs, because I chose to forgo extra tests. I wish I could reassure the oncologist that it's MY decision, MY responsibility and I won't sue if I relapse.

    June 14, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. bh

    It truly shows how disconnected the public is to the practice of medicine when oncologists, arguably the most compassionate physicians in the field, are vilified by their patients as only interested in the money.

    The sad thing is that its the attitude of many cancer survivors (who would not have been alive now if it were not for the tremendouse strides in cancer care over the years) who are doing themselves and the public the most disservice by not following up with their cancer care. Down the road, that ends up incurring more costs for everyone when the cancer returns which could have been avoided with routine surveillance.

    June 14, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sally Cain

    As a cancer suvivor who has been down that road twice, I can say there are other factors that impede one's seeking additional medical procedures. Fear of a recurrence and a distaste for becoming a medical test subject. No one gets out of life alive, but peace and freedom from constant medical appointments and tests makes things more bearable. I was fortunate to have excellent health insurance during both bouts so cost was not the consideration. You must remember that the "cures" for many types of cancer borders on the barbaric. Surgery, Chemo, and Radiation do not whet one's appetite for the next medical appointment or procedure.

    June 14, 2010 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dr. B

    I'm a doctor in the U.S. system that is about to declare bankruptcy. Why? Because patients can't pay and those that can refuse to pay me. One woman told me "I never asked you to save me." This after the detection of atypical heart attack symptoms and treatment. I work a part time job to pay my bills. I get no salary from my practice. And now, I can't afford the malpractice insurance because I won't be able to pay my staff. These same patients have iPhones, bluetooths and drive large expensive cars ( I have a 8 year old Toyota). Priorities people. What's more important – health or image. At this rate they will wake up sick and there will be no one to go and see. We'll all be clerks at WalMart.

    At least with Obama's public option I could have been payed something for the patients that tell me they can't pay anything.

    June 14, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. J Duell

    You know Jim F. I can't afford my medical bills,or any of my other bills right now. Until you have lived through it don't judge. We had savings before I got sick, we used it to pay the medical bills.
    We drive cars that are both almost 10 years old, we eat out maybe once a month, have not been to a movie in over a year ( since my diagnoses), shop at Aldi, use coupons, don't have cell phones and try to live paycheck to paycheck. We keep telling ourselves all we have to do is make it through this year, that is if I do not have a reoccurance of the cancer. I worked during my treatments, received radiation over my lunch hour and took off only the week after a chemo treatment. I did that to keep my job and my insurance.

    June 14, 2010 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. AmandaTwait

    7 yr cancer survivor here. And I now forgo treatment... basically because it's been 7 years!! I'm over it. Why do I need to go through bi-annual scans? It needlessly costs me, and the insurance company money. I've completely recovered and have been in remission for 5+ years. My oncologist agreed with me. I now only see him if I become symptomatic again. *shrug*
    Is this article really about skipping chemo, or moving on after remission? Seems unclear. Obviously written by someone who is ignorant of the experiance. (Lucky them.)

    June 14, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Hebe Occupati

    This is so sad...I am a lymphoma survivor and I didn't have insurance when diagnosed. Since I was unemployed and going to school I was lucky enough to be eligible for medicaid, which paid for all my treatment. Since I've been cancer free for a year and a half, I had to continue w my life, went back to school and found a part time job. I am no longer eligible for medicaid and my benefits expired, and off course there's is no good health insurance plan that would take me due to my pre-existing condition. I am paying $300 a month for a supplemental insurance plan that covers doctors appointments and emergencies, but I have to pay for my 3-times-a year PET scan that costs $1800.
    Health insurance companies are horrible. People should be able to afford medical care. We should not have to comprise our health and our lives because medical care and medicines and insurance plans are a steal!

    June 14, 2010 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. American in Canada

    The American system of health care is absolutely the dumbest concept of health care possible. I don't see why reform is such a big issue – yes, taxes our the heart of the matter but then maybe you can push your government to make better decisions with your tax dollars (i.e. fighting bogus wars – oil, drugs, ...) Universal health care works in every civilized nation and the quality of life in these civilized nations are as good if not better than in the USA. Wake up and smell the coffee.

    June 14, 2010 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ruth H.

    Gary Palmer,
    Many countries do indeed provide adequate health care to all citizens... sure, you might not be able to go get breast enhancement (if that's what you mean by "cadillac" treatment), but universal health care means you get what you need, including cancer treatment etc. There is plenty of money for that in this country, unfortunately it is going into some very deep corporate pockets rather than to treat people.

    June 14, 2010 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. rickster

    How come as an American and a Navy veteran an illegal alien has better medical care and access than I do?

    June 14, 2010 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. gphx

    Read all these sad stories about the problems of Medicare. The recent health bill passed doesn't give anyone 'free' insurance, it dumped people into the already problematic Medicare where old people eat dogfood so they can pay for prescriptions. The recent bill helped no one except employers. All it did was shift costs from them to you.

    June 15, 2010 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jackie

    There is a grass root non-profit in Scottsdale, AZ whose mission it is to help moms who have survived cancer. Our goal is to turn no mom away. Inspired by young cancer survivor and mother of three, Lauren Daniels, the Happily Ever After League (HEAL) has helped over 350 mom with monetary grants in the past five years. There is now a HEALing House that offers a food pantry and programs designed to assist the entire family..because "healing does begin at home". We would be honored if we could introduce this organization to your viewers. If one person is inspired to assist a survivor, it's worth it. They have already fought the battle of a life time...shouldn't their life be a little easier!!!!!!

    June 15, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.