Understanding Financial Toxicity

September 13, 2023 | By Adam Lippman

Understanding Financial Toxicity

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Just under 2 million people in the U.S. will receive a cancer diagnosis in 2023, which is stressful and overwhelming enough for the diagnosed. In addition, the financial impact of cancer on families is significant. It can result in a phenomenon known as financial toxicity. 

As cancer treatment costs continue to escalate, alleviating the physical and psychological stress associated with the financial burden is essential. If you are a cancer patient, you may feel the effects of financial toxicity, which can significantly impact your recovery and quality of life. The first step to dealing with financial toxicity during cancer treatments is understanding it so you can take proactive steps to minimize its effects. 

What Is Financial Toxicity?

The definition of financial toxicity is the financial burden and accompanying stress that cancer patients and their loved ones face due to the high out-of-pocket costs associated with cancer treatment, and its effects on their quality of life. Financial toxicity affects 40%-50% of cancer survivors and their loved ones. 

Cancer treatment results in two types of costs to patients and their families:

  • Direct costs:¬†Cancer treatment is expensive. Direct costs include therapeutics, medication, immunotherapy, and other expenses related to cancer treatment.
  • Indirect costs:¬†A cancer diagnosis and the resulting treatment can impact the patient’s ability to work, resulting in indirect costs such as loss of work hours or days, partial payment, or even loss of employment. Loved ones can also experience reduced work hours, and caregivers could lose as much as¬†50% of their potential workdays¬†in a month. Losing their job can limit patients’ access to health insurance benefits, further compounding treatment costs. Another typical indirect cost is asset depletion, as many cancer patients use their savings to pay for treatment.

While these measurable costs are a significant part of financial toxicity, the term also includes the immense stress cancer patients and their families feel about paying medical bills. Financial stress can lead to psychological stress in already at-risk patients, resulting in them delaying care.

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Signs of Financial Toxicity

The sooner you notice the signs of financial toxicity, the quicker you can take action and limit its effect. These signs can manifest in different ways and may vary from one person to another. However, some common symptoms to look out for include the following:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and anxious about finances.
  • Ignoring bills and avoiding financial conversations.
  • Selling assets or using savings to cover treatment.
  • Losing hope and experiencing feelings of helplessness.
  • Missing work due to treatment, resulting in further loss of income.
  • Delaying or missing treatment and appointments for financial reasons.
  • Experiencing conflict or strained relationships caused by financial stress.
  • Maxing out credit cards, or taking on more debt to cover treatment costs.
  • Scrambling to manage the cost of medications, treatments, and medical bills.
  • Pausing hobbies and avoiding social activities due to concern about the cost.

Recognizing that you might be affected by financial toxicity is the first step to seeking the help and support you need.

In addition, financial toxicity can manifest in increasingly severe psychological symptoms, including fatigue, disturbed sleep, and lack of appetite. Recognizing that you might be affected by financial toxicity is the first step to seeking the help and support you need. Financial toxicity can impact your quality of life. However, if you take the necessary steps to address it, you can reduce the lasting effects of financial stress.

What Factors Can Affect Your Risk of Financial Toxicity?

Although financial toxicity affects many cancer patients, some are more at risk than others. Many factors dictate your risk level, including socioeconomic, demographic, and psychological elements. Some of the critical factors that affect your risk include the following:

  • Age:¬†Younger people have had less time to accumulate savings, for example, and the stress of loss of work¬†can be more profound.
  • Type of surgery:¬†Should you need surgery, the type and cost of the procedure could be associated with a higher risk of financial toxicity.
  • Psychological resilience:¬†People handle stress differently, so financial toxicity has a stronger¬†effect on some personalities¬†than others.
  • Financial status:¬†Factors like whether you are the primary breadwinner in your household, how much money the other people in your family bring in, how much debt you had before you were diagnosed, the status of your savings, and whether you have health and disability insurance could all be triggers for increased financial strain.
  • Cost of treatment:¬†The more expensive your treatment, the higher the likelihood it will cause financial stress.

Every cancer patient comes from a unique set of circumstances, and your experience of financial toxicity could be different from someone else’s. However, if you are at higher risk, taking a proactive approach to alleviating the effects of financial toxicity can improve your quality of life. It can make your treatment more successful as you are more likely to follow treatment plans and attend appointments on time.

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What Are the Consequences of Financial Toxicity?

Financial toxicity has significant implications, including patients neglecting or delaying their cancer treatment and general medical care. The effects are far-reaching and impact everyone close to the patient. Some typical effects of financial toxicity include the following:

Inconsistent Treatment

Financial concerns can result in some patients skipping or delaying treatment or not taking medication as directed to save money on copayments. These factors are essential to recovery, and neglecting them could reduce the effectiveness of your treatment.

Lower Quality of Life

Financial distress can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues which affect your quality of life. In addition, financial toxicity can result in more symptoms and pain. Some patients also avoid activities they enjoy due to stress about the costs, leading to dissatisfaction with social activities and relationships.

Higher Risk of Mortality


Severe financial stress while undergoing cancer treatment could result in a higher mortality risk.

Severe financial stress while undergoing cancer treatment could result in a higher mortality risk. 

Increased Debt and Possible Bankruptcy

Cancer treatment is expensive, and some patients may take on additional debt or max out their existing financial resources to maintain treatment, which could lead to significant economic consequences in the long term. The financial implications are even more potent if your cancer treatment reduces your earning ability.

Strained Relationships

Financial stress can cause you to be irritable and distant, leading to conflict and strained interpersonal relationships. While these issues are never pleasant, being in the middle of cancer treatment magnifies them, and you could alienate your loved ones when you need the most support.

Impacted Caregivers

Informal caregivers such as family and friends often share the experience of financial toxicity by reallocating their own financial resources to necessities like food, medication, and other items patients may need. They are also likely to take time off work to provide care, which can impact their earnings. Just like the patient, caregivers can experience lower quality of life and mental health challenges.

Can You Treat Financial Toxicity?

Financial toxicity occurs due to several factors, all of which stem from financial strain. You can treat the symptoms of financial toxicity in the following ways:

  • Financial counseling:¬†Even if you are adept at managing your finances under normal circumstances, financial toxicity can cause you to make rash decisions. With the help of a financial counselor, you can create a budget, negotiate with creditors, and consider different financial assistance options. An impartial eye is highly beneficial in helping you make the best decisions for now and your future.
  • Support groups:¬†Joining a support group can provide emotional support and practical coping mechanisms for dealing with financial toxicity.
  • Patient assistance programs:¬†Many nonprofits and pharmaceutical companies¬†offer patient assistance programs¬†to help cover some of the cost of treatments and medications if you cannot afford them.
  • Legal advice:¬†It might be worth considering legal advice to help you manage financial toxicity. A trusted legal advisor can help you negotiate medical bills or take you through bankruptcy proceedings.
  • Insurance advocates: An insurance advocate supports you, and working with one can help you get the most from your insurance coverage. They can also negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf.
  • Employer resources:¬†Many employers offer additional benefits for cancer patients, including paid time off or short-term disability.
  • Community assistance:¬†Your community may have available resources to assist cancer patients with their daily living expenses, such as low-cost transportation, meal delivery, and financial assistance programs.
  • Family counseling:¬†Strained relationships with loved ones are the last thing you need in this already difficult time. Family counseling can help you and your loved ones deal with cancer diagnosis, treatment, and financial toxicity.

How to Come out of Financial Toxicity

Treating the symptoms of financial toxicity is one part of the solution. The other is to find actionable methods to reduce the financial strain on you and your family. The more you can alleviate the financial burden, the better for your loved ones, your psychological health, and your physical recovery.

Consider the following options to help reduce financial toxicity:

How to Come out of Financial Toxicity

  • Discuss options with your health care team:¬†Your health care team is invested in your recovery. Be open and honest about your financial concerns and limitations, and discuss more affordable treatment alternatives. They may be able to connect you with financial resources to help alleviate the burden. Speaking up about your concerns at the beginning of your treatment will not change the quality of care you receive. Instead, it gives your medical team ample time to explore more cost-effective options, like generic drugs and consolidating clinic visits.
  • Create a budget:¬†Creating an updated budget can make you feel more in control of your finances. Include your medical expenses and other new costs. When you see everything on a spreadsheet, it is easier to identify areas where you can cut costs and balance those with your quality of life.
  • Revisit your insurance coverage:¬†Discuss it with your provider and better understand how it applies to your cancer treatment.
  • Work with a financial counselor:¬†Bringing a financial expert on board can be helpful. They can review your budget, negotiate with creditors, and explore further avenues for financial assistance.
  • Review financial assistance opportunities:¬†Many patient assistance programs and other resources can help you shoulder the financial burden. Explore your options and determine if you are eligible for financial assistance with medication, treatment, and other expenses.
  • Ask for support:¬†Your loved ones want to help you, so have an open conversation about your financial concerns and ask them for support. They may have practical solutions for reducing financial stress or offer emotional support.
  • Practice self-care:¬†Financial toxicity can have severe physical and economic consequences. Ensure you take care of yourself, and take advantage of options like meditation, counseling, spending time outdoors, and exercise ‚ÄĒ with permission from your health care team. Stay proactive in your approach to financial toxicity, as avoiding your challenges will only magnify their effects.
  • Consider a Viatical Settlement:¬†A Viatical Settlement involves selling your life insurance to a licensed third party for a lump sum.¬†It is not taxable¬†if you use it to cover your medical expenses. It provides you with money to alleviate your financial costs so you can focus on treatment and recovery.¬†

How Can a Viatical Settlement Help?

People sell their life insurance policies for many reasons, and a Viatical Settlement is a practical and achievable option to give you access to the funds when you need them the most. Some of the many benefits of a Viatical Settlement include the following:

  • Quick financial support:¬†A Viatical Settlement grants you quick access to your money, so you can use it to cover cancer treatment costs, medication, living expenses, and any other necessary costs.
  • Financial health:¬†Once your Viatical Settlement is processed and you have received payment, the money is yours. You do not have to repay it, so you are not incurring any debt.
  • Freedom:¬†If you qualify for a Viatical Settlement, you can use the money however you like. You can put it toward medical expenses, go on a vacation you have always dreamed of, improve your quality of life, fund alternative medical treatment, or provide financial support to loved ones.
  • Options:¬†There are various options for alleviating financial stress, each with pros and cons. Viatical Settlements offer a higher payout than surrendering your life insurance, especially if you work with a settlement provider that creates bidding competition for your policy. It can also be a better option than a loan, as it frees you from debt and financial stress.

Let Settlement Benefits Association Help You Combat Financial Toxicity

Let Settlement Benefits Association Help You Combat Financial Toxicity

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing for you and your loved ones. It is challenging enough to navigate this new way of living without the additional burden of financial stress, and the accompanying physical, social, and psychological effects. Settlement Benefits Association can help you navigate this challenging time and walk you through the process of obtaining a Viatical Settlement you can use however you choose.

We have been brokering Life Settlements and Viatical Settlements since 2002 and are entirely committed to serving our clients at the highest level. Our job is to get you the highest offer on your life insurance policy so you can maintain your quality of life during and after cancer treatment. Use our visual valuator to find out what your policy is worth, or contact us to start getting a Viatical Settlement today. One of our experienced agents will reach out to you, walk you through our simple process, and answer any questions.

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