A new national Angus Reid survey reveals that the out-of-pocket costs that come with a cancer diagnosis would be unbearable for many Canadians.
The survey found that a staggering 90 per cent 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.
Thirty per cent said they would have to go into debt to pay for the out-of-pocket costs of a cancer diagnosis while an additional 10 per cent said they would need to ask friends or family to be able to cover the financial costs.
Markedly, 63 per cent 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 Canadian Cancer Society. “Cancer takes a toll on you emotionally, physically and psychosocially. Adding financial weight to a diagnosis is unconscionable.”
Affordable Access to Cancer Care in Canada
A 2021 systematic literature review found 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 cancer care 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.
The Cost of Cancer Care in Rural Canada
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 costs $2100 per month.
The costs of cancer care 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.”
Supports are Available
If you or a loved one are going through a cancer diagnosis and need financial support, Canadian Cancer Society can help with programs and services that connect you with the care you need, without financial hardship.
These supports include:
- The Wheels of Hope volunteer driving program that provides rides to and from cancer-related appointments.
- The Travel Treatment Fund that offers financial assistance to cover some costs of travelling to cancer treatments.
- Cancer lodges provide accommodations for people receiving life-saving cancer treatment.
- Free mental health support programs, like cancerconnection.ca give people a safe place to share their experiences and get support.
- The free wig and breast prostheses and accessories are available with just a simple call or click.
- The Community Services Locator helps find services available locally, including over 400 financial service supports nationwide.
- The Cancer Information Helpline is available nationwide and in 200 languages for anyone with questions about cancer, including financial questions (1-888-939-3333, email@example.com or live chat at cancer.ca).
- For a comprehensive list of nationwide support, check out our Essential Guide to Navigating Cancer for Patients and Families.
“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 the 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.