Catastrophic expenditure and treatment attrition in patients seeking comprehensive colorectal cancer treatment in India: A prospective multicentre study

Lancet Reg Health Southeast Asia. 2022 Nov;6:None. doi: 10.1016/j.lansea.2022.100058.


Background: Although colorectal cancer is increasing in India, the cost of comprehensive treatment and its consequences for patients and households are unknown. This study aimed to describe catastrophic expenditure and treatment attrition in patients with a treatment plan for colorectal cancer.

Methods: A prospective, multicentre, cohort study was conducted in five tertiary hospitals in India from December 2020 to March 2022. Consecutive patients with a new treatment plan for colorectal cancer were followed-up for six months. The total cost of treatment was reported, including out-of-pocket payments (OOPP, paid by patients at the time-of-service use) and covered by third parties (insurance, public funds). The primary outcome was catastrophic expenditure, defined as OOPPs greater than 25% of patient's annual household income and the secondary outcome was treatment attrition, defined as unplanned interruption of the treatment course not recommended by the clinical team.

Findings: Of 226 patients included, 20 died within six months of being offered a treatment plan and four were lost to follow-up. The median total cost of colorectal cancer treatment was 407,508 Indian Rupees (INR/5340 USD), to which the biggest contributor was the patient's OOPP (median 330,277 INR/4328 USD). Surgery and anaesthesia costs (median 85,944 INR/1126 USD) were higher than radiotherapy (median 55,525 INR/728 USD) and chemotherapy (median 14,780 INR/194 USD). The overall catastrophic expenditure rate was 90.1% (182/202) and the treatment attrition rate was 9.4% (19/202). Patients with treatment attrition made lower OOPPs than those who completed treatment (median 205,926 vs 349,398 INR, p < 0.01) but had a similar risk of catastrophic expenditure (OR 0.23, 95%CI 0.03-2.28, p = 0.186).

Interpretation: Most treatment costs for colorectal cancer were paid out-of-pocket by patients and catastrophic expenditure was common. Treatment attrition rates at tertiary centres were low, suggesting greater attrition at previous stages of care. Better financial protection may allow more patients to receive comprehensive cancer treatment while avoiding household financial catastrophe.

Funding: This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (NIHR 16.136.79) using UK aid from the UK Government to support global health research, by the India Institute of the University of Birmingham and by the Global Challenges program of the University of Birmingham. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the UK government.

Keywords: Cancer; Catastrophic expenditure; Colorectal cancer; India; Treatment attrition.