Although money may be the last thing a parent worries about after a child is diagnosed with cancer, new research shows that a cancer diagnosis can take a significant toll on a family’s financial well-being, too.
Researchers surveyed 99 families of children being treated for cancer at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center within a month of diagnosis and again six months later.
One-quarter of the families lost more than 40 percent of household income. Nearly one-third of the families had difficulty affording food (20 percent), housing (8 percent) or energy (17 percent), the study found.
Six months after diagnosis, 56 percent of adults who supported their families had experienced work disruption. That figure included 15 percent who either quit their jobs or were laid off as a result of their child’s illness. Another 37 percent cut their hours or took leaves of absence. Only 34 percent of those who took a leave were paid during that time, the research revealed.
At diagnosis, 20 percent of families were low-income (defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty level). Six months after diagnosis, another 12 percent of families fell into the low-income category, the study found.
The researchers said they were surprised to find such high levels of need at a major center that has resource specialists to help patients’ families facing financial problems.
“What it says is that even at a well-resourced, large referral center, about a third of families are reporting food, housing or energy insecurity six months into treatment,” study lead author Dr. Kira Bona, a pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, said in a center news release.
“If anything, the numbers in our study are an underestimate of what might be seen at less well-resourced institutions, which was somewhat surprising to us,” Bona added.
The findings were published Sept. 23 in the journal Pediatric Blood & Cancer.
Recent research has shown that young cancer patients in low-income families are less likely to take chemotherapy drugs as prescribed and have lower survival rates, the study authors said.
The researchers plan to conduct a further study to determine if what they call “household material hardship” has the same effect on childhood cancer patients as low-income status.
“If household material hardship is linked to poorer outcomes in pediatric oncology, just like income is, then we can design interventions to fix food, housing and energy insecurity,” Bona said. “It’s not clear what you do about income in a clinical setting.”
The American Cancer Society has more about cancer in children.