Breast cancer survivors pay 112% more out-of-pocket when diagnosed with lymphedema

Out-of-pocket healthcare costs associated with breast cancer can already be enough to dramatically change a patient’s life. According to a new study published in Supportive Care in Cancer, those costs are even higher for survivors suffering from lymphedema.

The authors examined data from more than 100 breast cancer survivors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and conducted in-person interviews with 40 breast cancer survivors. More than 46 percent reported suffering breast cancer-related lymphedema. The mean survivor age was 63 years old.

Overall, the team found that, excluding productivity costs, patients with lymphedema were estimated to have an average of $2,306 in annual out-of-pocket costs. Patients without lymphedema were estimated to have an average of $1,090 in annual out-of-pocket costs, a difference of 112 percent.

“That extra $2,000 or so may not break the bank in one year,” lead author Lorraine T. Dean, ScD, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in a prepared statement. “But it can take away discretionary spending, or whittle away retirement savings. If it’s a recurring burden each year, how can you ever rebuild? That extra $2,000 in spending can cripple people over the long term.”

Dean noted that prior research on healthcare costs associated with breast cancer has typically focused on short-term costs after diagnosis or insurance claims instead of looking closer at what the patients themselves are spending.

Dean and colleagues pushed for more government policies to help patients deal with these significant costs.

“The U.S. is too resource-rich for people to have to make decisions between their health and their wealth,” Dean said in the same statement. “By making some important changes in coverage, we can help breast cancer survivors who continue to struggle with economic burdens long after their cancers are considered cured.”