Working and Financial Impact of Prostate Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2017 | Last updated: January 2021

Battling prostate cancer can come with a hefty price tag. One large study found that men with prostate cancer had life time medical costs around $110,520, with prostate cancer-specific medical care costs making up over $34,000 of this spending. This means, that for men with prostate cancer, it is estimated that 30% of their life-time medical expenses will come solely from their prostate cancer.1

Even with the best insurance, out-of-pocket medical expenses can be high, and can skyrocket for uninsured men. The financial impact of prostate cancer treatment can lead to decreased quality of life, while prostate cancer itself can impact a man’s employment status, leading to further financial distress.

Financial burden and quality of life

A new term, financial toxicity, has been used in cancer literature to describe how cancer costs can lead to financial insecurity and decrease an individual’s quality of life. Essentially, when a man is worried about his finances, or does not have the means to live the life he was accustomed to pre-diagnosis or treatment, or when medical expenses outweigh income, his quality of life can plummet. Studies have found a clear association between distress over finances, financial instability, and poor finances, with negative health effects. These effects include higher levels of fatigue, and mental health struggles, among other quality of life-impacting issues. It has been estimated that this experience occurs in as many as 1 out of every 5 individuals with prostate cancer.2,3 Worries about financial security can even lead to individuals avoiding treatment or not filling prescriptions they need to avoid spending more money.

Prostate cancer’s effect on employment

Within six months of a prostate cancer diagnosis, a man is 10% less likely to be working than a man without prostate cancer.4 This difference decreases as a man approaches 12 months (and beyond) prostate cancer diagnosis, implying that shortly after diagnosis, a man may experience treatment or cancer related side effects that may affect his ability to work full time or at all. Although they may eventually be able to return to work as normal, many men may still experience cancer-related fatigue for months or years post-diagnosis and treatment. Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is described as a weariness or tiredness that is unlike “normal” sluggishness. CRF is not relieved by sleep or rest.

It has been estimated that 40% of cancer patients report experiencing CRF at the time of their diagnosis, with that number increasing to 80% and 90% if a patient was treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, respectively. Additionally, roughly 75% of patients with cancer reported that they needed to change their work schedule or had to miss at least one day of work directly due to their CRF.5 Changes to work schedules and missing days of work can further contribute to a man’s financial burden or instability. Further, approximately one-quarter of all men with prostate cancer report choosing to stop working or retire early due to their prostate cancer. Of those who retire early, they report doing so roughly four to five years earlier than they had anticipated.3 This can greatly impact retirement savings plans and the ability to retire comfortably.

What can you do to ease the burden?

The financial and employment struggles faced by individuals with prostate cancer can be immense, but they don’t always have to be unmanageable. There are many support resources that exist to help with treatment costs, co-pays, travel expenses, and more. Some of these programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are government-sponsored, and require strict qualifications be met before aid is provided. Other organizations, like CancerCare, are nonprofit organizations open to anyone. As an example of the services offered by some of these outlets, CancerCare has counselors always standing by on their help line (800-813-HOPE, 800-813-4673) to help individuals navigate the emotional journey of battling cancer, as well as provide specific financial aid advice for your particular situation.6

Additionally, certain individuals with prostate cancer may be able to qualify for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) ensuring up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work annually without fear of loss of their job, or disability benefits. You can talk with your employer, insurer, or doctor to determine if these options are available to you. One of the most important steps in keeping yourself financially afloat during treatment and beyond is to communicate with those around you, if you’re comfortable doing so, including your employer and healthcare team. Getting ahead of financial concerns before they impact your quality of life can make a difference in overall wellbeing.

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