Families struggling to cope with costs after cancer diagnosis

FAMILIES with a cancer diagnosis are struggling to meet basic needs, resulting in a doubling in demand for financial assistance in the last 10 years, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

A study by the National Cancer Registry of Ireland in partnership with the society found that patients and families from every social group experience financial hardship as a result of a cancer diagnosis.

Almost a third said their household income had decreased since their cancer diagnosis, with the percentage higher among women, younger patients, those working at the time of diagnosis and those with dependants.

The report, Financial Impact on a Cancer Diagnosis, focused on breast, prostate and lung cancer, and involved social workers and hundreds of patients.

Household spending increased as a result of the cancer diagnosis for almost half. For more than a third it increased a little, but for 13% it had increased a lot.

Last year the number of people seeking financial help from the society increased by 20%. Such applications would be made by a patient’s social worker, with the money paid to the patient, sometimes within 48 hours because of the gravity of the situation.

The society paid out €3.5m in grants in the last five years alone.

The society’s head of services, Máiréad Lyons, said there was an need to review the supports and provisions available to patients.

Of those who were working, 83% took some time off. The 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 half (45%) had paid consultants’ fees, and more than a third (36%) had paid to see a GP, with €465 being the average spent on consultant fees and €250 on GP fees.

Three in 10 patients paid out an average of €300 on prescription medicines, with four out 10 paying about €100 for over the counter medicines. Some 13% had paid for dietary supplements.

Four out of 10 women with breast cancer had paid about €400 on wigs and hair pieces.

Almost one in four patients had claimed a new HSE or social welfare payment because of their cancer diagnosis.

Nearly 40% had obtained a medical care following diagnosis.

Chairman of the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, Tony O’Brien, said the cost of cancer to the individual should not be lost sight of in striving for higher quality and efficiency in cancer services.


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