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February 4, 2024
This World Cancer Day, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is shining a spotlight on the unexpected cost of cancer by releasing findings from a new national survey that reveals the out-of-pocket costs that come with a cancer diagnosis would be unbearable for many Canadians.
The survey, which was conducted in partnership with the Angus Reid Group, found that a staggering 90% of people in Canada feel a sudden cancer diagnosis would impact their household finances. Over two thirds noted that additional monthly out-of-pocket expenses related to cancer care would make it difficult for them to manage financial necessities like paying for monthly household expenses, making mortgage or rent payments and paying off debts. 30% said they would have to go into debt to pay for the out-of-pocket costs of a cancer diagnosis while an additional 10% said they would need to ask friends or family to be able to cover the financial costs. Markedly, 63% of Canadians said that the financial burden of cancer-related expenses would have a significant impact on their stress and mental health.
“Additional expenses caused by a cancer diagnosis come at a time when all other stressors are high,” says Dr Stuart Edmonds, Executive Vice President of Mission, Research and Advocacy at CCS. “Cancer takes a toll on you emotionally, physically and psychosocially. Adding financial weight to a diagnosis is unconscionable.”
Despite having a universal healthcare system, there are still out-of-pocket costs to individuals going through a cancer diagnosis in Canada. A 2021 systematic literature review led by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer highlighted that people in Canada spend an average of $253 per month on out-of-pocket costs – adjusted to 2023, this amount is currently estimated at $290 per month. These costs can be associated with anything from medications and caregiver expenses, to getting to appointments and other travel costs. Each expense adds up at a time when patients may be unable to work due to their illness. It can take between 6 to 10 months to treat and begin to recover from some of the most common types of cancer.
These challenges around out-of-pocket costs are compounded by the fact that, while we know cancer can affect anyone, it doesn’t affect everyone equally. There are deep disparities in cancer risk, care and costs that can impact a person’s cancer treatment, outcomes and overall experience. For underserved populations, like people living in rural and remote communities and families caring for young children facing cancer, the costs can be even greater.
For Jennifer Mitchell, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2016, the impact of out-of-pocket costs were felt almost immediately. Not having access to the treatment and care she needed in her hometown of Corner Brook, NL, Jennifer had to travel on her own dime to seek treatment in St. Johns, NL. The most significant costs, however, came with Jennifer’s second cancer diagnosis in 2021 after being in remission for almost five years.
Jennifer had to drive 8 hours to receive rounds of immunotherapy treatment in St. Johns, and then to Ottawa for a stem cell transplant. Because Jennifer’s immune system was compromised during treatment, while in Ottawa she stayed at a hospital residence that cost $2100 per month. These costs added up further when Jennifer’s husband had to quit his job and make the 3-day drive with their vehicle to Ottawa because Jennifer couldn’t take public transit due to the risk of infection. Overall, the couple spent a total of $14,000 on out-of-pocket costs upfront associated with air fare, gas, groceries, housing and medication dispensary costs.
“Affordable access to treatment should not depend on where you live,” says Jennifer. “I was unlucky enough to be diagnosed with cancer, and while I was fortunate to be reimbursed for a percentage of my travel costs, the upfront costs were still a huge burden. The financial impact of out-of-pocket costs can be astronomical, and there are so many families that cannot come back from this kind of hardship and loss.”
While we all have a role to play in finding solutions to issues that impact cancer patients, CCS is recommending several actions governments can take to begin making inroads, including reducing the cost of drugs, implementing a refundable caregiver tax credit, better job-protected leave, and coordination with provinces and territories to reduce the multitude of costs borne by patients including post-op supplies, prosthesis, home care, travel and accommodation, and more. Through this pan-Canadian approach, life can be made a little easier for the over 1.5 million people living with or beyond cancer in Canada.
“Nothing big gets solved by one person – reducing the cost of cancer care is going to take everyone acting together to find solutions. It takes a society,” says Dr Edmonds. “The Canadian Cancer Society is asking people to join us and call on governments across Canada to help make cancer care more affordable for those who need it.”
To participate, add your signature to a letter that will be hand-delivered to government, and show them there is a whole community who care about cancer and who expect better. Visit cancer.ca/costofcancer and take action today.
Supports are available
If you or a loved one are going through a cancer diagnosis and need financial support, CCS is here to help with programs and services that connect you with the care you need, without financial hardship. These supports include:
About World Cancer Day
World Cancer Day is a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) focused on raising worldwide awareness, improving education and catalyzing personal, collective and government action. This year, organizations around the world are focused on closing the care gap by promoting health equity. The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is building on this global theme by calling on governments across Canada to help make cancer care more affordable for those who need it. across Canada to help make cancer care more affordable for those who need it.
About the survey
From December 28, 2023 to January 2, 2024, the Angus Reid Group conducted an online survey among a representative sample of 2,624 adult Canadians. The respondents are members of Angus Reid Forum. The survey was conducted in English and French. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Angus Reid is Canada’s most respected opinion data and market research provider. Offering a variety of research solutions to businesses, brands, governments, not-for-profit organizations and more, the Angus Reid team connects technologies and people to derive powerful insights that inform your decisions.
“Cancer has an impact not only on a person’s health, but also on their personal finances and employment status. It’s important to understand these costs, and who bears them. As CPAC works with partners across Canada to deliver the priorities of the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control, considering the financial burden helps us develop supports for people with cancer. We know travelling to medical appointments for cancer care can be a financial burden for people who live in rural and remote areas far away from cancer centres and recognize the importance of programs like the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan Travel Assistance Pilot offering support to Métis people with cancer who have to travel to get the care they need.”
– Dr Craig Earle, CEO, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer
“In the face of a cancer diagnosis, the financial strain on Canadian families is not just a statistic; but an undeniable reality affecting many lives across the country. The challenges posed by cancer extend far beyond the realm of medical treatment – it can deal to enduring financial challenges.”
– Demetre Eliopoulos, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Research Services at the Angus Reid Group
About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society works tirelessly to save and improve lives. We fund the brightest minds in cancer research. We provide a compassionate support system for all those affected by cancer, across Canada and for all types of cancer. As the voice for people who care about cancer, we work with governments to shape a healthier society. No other organization does all that we do to make lives better today and transform the future of cancer forever. Help us make a difference. Call 1-888-939-3333 or visit cancer.ca today.
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