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Breast Cancer Surgery: How Cost Influences Treatment

In many women, even those with insurance cover, the cost of breast cancer treatment will influence their choice of the type of surgery. Due to this finding, there should be a guideline on how physicians present breast cancer treatment options to patients. This is mainly because surgical treatment approaches come at different costs, even if the outcomes are similar.

Women with early-stage disease who are eligible for surgery have a variety of options for surgical treatments. These choices are equally effective and often result in excellent treatment outcomes. The surgeons always discuss the physical and emotional side effects of treatment but overlook the discussion about the costs.  

In one electronic survey on women found to have 0 – III breast cancer:

  • A large proportion of them said they considered the costs of surgery when making their treatment decisions. Almost a third of the women said that cost played a significant role in their choice of surgery. For those women with lower than $45,000 annual household income, the costs of treatment mattered more than keeping their breast or its appearance. These two factors are the most discussed by women who needed to make a surgical choice.
  • About 35% of the participants confided that their cancer treatment had become a financial burden. In 78% of the respondents, the costs were never discussed with their cancer team. Even those with high incomes (65%), said they were not fiscally prepared to shoulder the cost of their breast cancer surgery.
  • Among all the breast cancer treatment procedures available – including mastectomy, lumpectomy with radiation, and double mastectomy – it seems double mastectomy was associated with high patient debt and financial constraints.

Women consider a lot of factors when faced with the decision about the type of surgery best for them. This includes their options for reconstruction, appearance, recovery time, sexuality, demand for future surveillance, personal desire for breast preservation and their peace of mind.

The survey observed that physicians and patients would freely discuss the side effects of the treatment options, but avoid addressing the potential for financial harm this would cause to the patients and their families. They then suggested that this habit should change to help patients make informed treatment decisions.

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