Patient Attitudes Regarding the Cost of Illness in Cancer Care

Oncologist. 2015 Oct;20(10):1199-204. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2015-0168. Epub 2015 Sep 1.


Background and purpose: The cost of illness in cancer care and the subsequent distress has attracted scrutiny. Guidelines recommend enhanced discussion of costs, assuming this will reduce both stress and costs. Little is known about patient attitudes about cost considerations influencing treatment decisions.

Methods: A convenience-sample survey of patients currently receiving radiation and/or intravenous chemotherapy at an outpatient cancer center was performed. Assessments included prevalence and extent of financial burden, level of financial distress, attitudes about using costs to influence treatment decisions, and frequency or desirability of cost discussions with oncologists.

Results: A total of 132 participants (94%) responded. Overall, 47% reported high financial stress, 30.8% felt well informed about costs prior to treatment, and 71% rarely spoke to their oncologists about cost. More than 71% of patients did not want either society's or personal costs to influence treatment, and this result did not change based on degree of financial stress. Even when asked to assume that lower cost regimens were equally effective, only 28% would definitely want the lower cost regimen. Patients did not believe it was the oncologist's duty to perform cost discussions.

Conclusion: Even insured patients have a high degree of financial distress. Most, including those with the highest levels of distress, did not speak often with oncologists about costs and were strongly adverse to having cost considerations influence choice of regimen. The findings suggest that patients are not cost sensitive with regard to treatment decisions. Oncologists will require improved tools to have meaningful cost discussion, as recommended by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Keywords: Attitudes; Choice behavior; Cost of illness; Neoplasms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / economics*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Patient Preference
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Young Adult