The economic impact on families when a child is diagnosed with cancer

Curr Oncol. 2008 Aug;15(4):173-8. doi: 10.3747/co.v15i4.260.


Objective: In a study conducted in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, we examined the economic impact on families caring for a child with cancer.

Methods: We undertook semi-structured interviews with 28 French and English families with a child diagnosed with cancer in the last 10 years.

Results: Families who care for a child with cancer incur considerable costs during the diagnostic, treatment, and follow-up care phases of the disease. Four major themes emerged from this qualitative study as contributing factors for these expenses: necessary travel; loss of income because of a reduction or termination of parental employment; out-of-pocket treatment expenses; and inability to draw on assistance programs to supplement or replace lost income. In addition, many of the decisions with regard to the primary caregiver were gendered. Typically, the mother is the one who terminated or reduced work hours, which affected the entire family's financial well-being.

Conclusions: For families with children diagnosed with cancer, financial issues emerged as a significant concern at a time when these families were already consumed with other challenges. This economic burden can have long-term effects on the financial security, quality of life, and future well-being of the entire family, including the siblings of the affected child, but in particular the mother. Financial assistance programs for families of seriously ill children need to be revisited and expanded.

Keywords: Childhood cancer; economic effects; effects on work; out-of-pocket expenses; qualitative study; travel expenses.