Cancer’s Financial Toll on Couples Hurts Both Partners

Financial stress and work lost to cancer treatment affects patients and their partners alike.

Partners also experienced pain, fatigue and sleep issues owing to these fiscal worries, a new study found.

“We know that financial toxicity or hardship is a significant effect of cancer and its treatment and is associated with poor health issues for patients and survivors,” said lead author Lauren Ghazal. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the Rogel Cancer Center and the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

“Financial toxicity extends to caregivers or partners, too,” she said in a university news release.

Her team wanted to understand how that toxicity affects the caregiver’s health, including anxiety, depression, fatigue and overall quality of life.

“It is important to examine the full effect of financial toxicity on a household in order to develop multilevel interventions that center the patient,” she explained.

For the study, the researchers surveyed patients who had been treated for stage 3 colon cancer one to five years earlier, as well as their spouses, domestic partners or significant others from the same household.

In all, 307 patient-partner pairs responded.

The survey asked about potential stressors including cutting spending, missing bill payments and debt from unpaid bills, bank loans or money borrowed.

Patients and partners were also asked about physical function, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, social roles, social activities and pain.

About 39% of partners who worked full- or part-time when the patient was diagnosed said they missed between one week and one month of work. About 38% said they lost income due to their loved one’s cancer.

Nearly two-thirds of the partners reported financial burden. This included cutting down on expenses, activities, and food or clothes. They also tapped savings.

About one-third of the partners reported high financial worry. The more income or work they lost, the more they worried. About 29% of partners reported debt related to the cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Financial toxicity was associated with benchmarks of poorer quality of life, according to the report.

Partners reported extra emotional spending, disrupted social lives, having to ask family and friends for help with medical expenses and worry over what could have been if they hadn’t had insurance.

Younger partners were significantly more likely to report financial burden and debt, the study authors said, noting that colon cancer is on the rise among younger adults.

“When you think of key developmental milestones young adults expect to achieve, they are driven by money: completing education, establishing employment, cultivating romantic relationships, starting a family. All of these milestones impact becoming financially independent, and all are susceptible to disruption. And of course, a cancer diagnosis is a major disruption,” said senior author Dr. Christine Veenstra, associate professor of medical oncology at Michigan Medicine.

“As we see colorectal cancer becoming more common at younger ages, it is imperative we assess for financial hardship among patients and their partners, and connect them with services and support both within and outside the hospital setting,” Veenstra added.

Future research is expected to analyze the impact of financial toxicity on patients and partners together.

The researchers said they hope to identify employer-level considerations and other interventions to ease the burden.

The study findings were recently published online in JAMA Network Open.

More information

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has more on cancer and finances.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, news release, April 11, 2023

Source: HealthDay