Atlanta—Financial issues are a primary reason some cancer survivors seek changes in their prescription medication usage, including skipping doses, or requesting cheaper medications, a new study reveals.

The report, published early online in the journal Cancer, helps explain the financial burdens experienced by cancer survivors and suggests that non-elderly cancer survivors are particularly vulnerable to poor adherence to their prescribed drug regimens.

The study was conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society, the CDC, and the National Institutes of Health, using 2011-2014 data from the National Health Interview Survey. The annual household interview survey conducted by the CDC is nationally representative and includes 8,931 cancer survivors and 126,287 individuals without a cancer history.

A change in prescription drug use for financial reasons was reported by 31.6% of non-elderly adults who had been recently diagnosed and by 27.9% of those with a diagnosis of at least 2 years. That is compared to 21.4% of adults without a history of cancer.

“Specifically, non-elderly cancer survivors were more likely to skip medication, delay filling a prescription, ask their doctor for lower-cost medication, and use alternative therapies for financial reasons compared with non-elderly individuals without a cancer history,” explained senior author Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, of the American Cancer Society.

The analysis also indicates that, among privately insured non-elderly cancer survivors, one-third of survivors enrolled in high-deductible plans asked their doctor for lower cost medications compared with fewer than one-fifth of survivors enrolled in low-deductible plans.

Uniform healthcare coverage through Medicare means that the variation in ability to pay for drugs is much lower between elderly cancer survivors and elderly individuals without a cancer history, the researchers note.

“Healthcare reforms addressing the financial burden of cancer among survivors, including the escalating cost of prescription drugs, should consider multiple comorbid conditions and high-deductible health plans, and the working poor,” Jemal suggested. “Our findings also have implications for doctor and patient communication about the financial burden of cancer when making treatment decisions, especially on the use of certain drugs that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but with very small benefit compared with alternative and more affordable drugs.”

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