Financial Toxicity: A Dangerous Side Effect of Breast Cancer

The “C” word stirs up difficult emotions and associations. Pain, fear, hopelessness. Despair. Despite all the medical advances that have made certain cancers treatable, manageable and even curable, it is a serious, formidable disease with a risk of serious and challenging side effects. 

But there is one serious side effect we tend to overlook. The financial side effect. There’s even an official name for it: “Financial Toxicity.”

Financial toxicity is the financial burden that cancer patients and their families experience due, in part, to their illness. This can include costs of medical treatments, such as doctor’s visits, medications, and hospital stays. Fortunately patients in Israel don’t have to bear that burden thanks to a strong national healthcare system. But it also includes a long list of non-medical expenses, like transportation, lost wages, extra help and babysitting, and more.  Financial toxicity is toxic indeed. It can be emotionally, mentally and physically debilitating. And even life-threatening.

And it strikes everywhere. 

A poll conducted in August 2022 on behalf of the Zurich Assurance Group in the UK revealed just how pervasive the hidden costs are for those facing cancer. The survey included 300 UK adults with cancer, or who had been diagnosed or cured in the past two years. When asked in what ways their finances had been affected, 28% claimed they were unable to pay all of their bills following their diagnosis. 27% said that life had been made easier by a payout or benefit from an insurance policy. 24% said that financial pressures had forced them to return to work, while 22% said that their partner had been forced to quit work to take care of them.

The figures are alarming. We see how they play out in real life when we review grant applications at the Israel Lemonade Fund. There’s more to the numbers that meets the eye. I hope to explore some of these together with you here.