Insuring Your Health

The Five Cancers Most Likely To Push You Over The Financial Edge

By Michelle Andrews

October 11th, 2011, 12:22 PM

Cancer often takes a heavy toll not only on people’s bodies but on their finances as well. And just as some types of cancer are more deadly than others, some types cause more financial pain, as recent research from Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center shows.

Illustration by urbanbohemian via Flickr

When researchers examined bankruptcy rates in Washington state and compared them with a registry of 232,000 cancer patients there between 1995 and 2009, they found that five years after their diagnosis cancer patients were four times more likely to declare bankruptcy than the general population.

Specifically, 1.9 percent of cancer patients declared bankruptcy compared with just 0.28 percent of those without cancer.

When researchers looked further, certain types of cancer were associated with a higher risk of bankruptcy at the 5-year mark than others. The top five cancers in order of risk for bankruptcy were:

  • Lung
  • Thyroid
  • Leukemia/lymphoma
  • Uterine
  • Colorectal

Although the reasons for the higher bankruptcy rates aren’t known with certainty, study lead author Scott Ramsey, a physician and health economist at Hutchinson, has some ideas.

In the case of lung and thyroid cancers, it may have to do with the populations that are typically affected, says Ramsey.

Lung cancer, for example, is generally diagnosed in smokers who are more likely to be relatively low on the socioeconomic ladder, says Ramsey. Likewise, thyroid cancer is most common in women who are younger than typical cancer patients, and so may have worse or less insurance than older patients.

In the case of leukemia/lymphoma and colorectal cancers, extremely high treatment costs may be the culprit in bankruptcy filings, he says, pointing to bone marrow transplants used to treat blood cancers, and the $300,000 or higher price tag to treat advanced colorectal cancer.

As for uterine cancer, “We’re not quite sure what’s going on with that,” he says.

4 Responses to “The Five Cancers Most Likely To Push You Over The Financial Edge”

  1. Lynn Bailey says:

    Uterine cancer related bankruptcy probably occurs because it is often diagnosed in women who lack health insurance and therefore avoid routine gynecologic care and pap smears. They are also likely to have been exposed to HPV. I would think there would be a correlation with low income and low level of education and lack of insurance. Age may also be a factor.

    The sad part of this is that uterine and colorectal cancers are easily detected early and treatable if caught early. Treatment is costly and less effective if caught too late for both colon, rectal and uterine cancers.

  2. Tod McBrien says:

    Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma: This is not listed on your top five, but I have first hand

    experience that it is very can be very expensive to treat. I’ve been battling since

    the Summer 1998, now on 5th diagnosis of this persistent by nature cancer. Perhaps

    the cost is relatively low because of its unique qualities and expected short mortallity


  3. Julie Houston says:

    I am shocked that brain cancer wasn’t at the top.

  4. Potter Rothchild says:

    I’ve been a health insurance advisor for 22 years. When lower-income Cancer patients declare bankruptcy, they often have an improvement in their post-cancer lifestyle. Most say that they wish they had declared bankruptcy years before they contracted cancer.

    Also, you’ll find that the latest trend of HIGH DEDUCTIBLE health policies are precipitating personal bankruptcies..particularly if the cancer patient is someone who pays his/her own health premiums. $600/month premium + $5,000 Deductible + 20% Coinsurance equals a whopping $14,200 outlay for this individual in the current calendar year. On January 1st, the Deductible/Coinsurance start anew.

    Only price ceilings on medical treatments, or people decreasing their will-to-live would lower these insane costs. But only someone very naive would believe that either of these are a possibility.