Fighting Liver Cancer Takes Big Financial Toll: Study | Health

THURSDAY, February 2, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Out-of-pocket expenses can leave Medicare patients with the most common type of liver cancer in financial distress.

While Medicare payments exceeded $65,000 in the first year after a hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) diagnosis, out-of-pocket expenses exceeded $10,000, a new study found.

“As has been shown for other cancers, we found that patients with liver cancer suffer from a high cancer-related financial burden,” said study co-author Dr. Amit Singal, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas.

“The financial toxicity of cancer therapy can negatively impact patients, leading to medical debt and even bankruptcy for some patients,” Singal said in a university press release.

The researchers said the cost of treating liver cancer has been little studied.

Patients have benefited from several new treatments over the past decade, including new surgeries, radiation-based therapies and immunotherapies. While they can be effective, they are also difficult to pay for.

The researchers used data from a Medicare database to examine the first-year costs of treatment for 4,525 patients ages 68 and older who were diagnosed with liver cancer between 2011 and 2015.

They then compared the costs for patients with HCC to those for a matched group of cirrhotic patients. (Drug statements were not included because they were not available for all patients.)

The researchers found that patients with liver cancer had significantly higher inpatient, outpatient, and physician costs than the patients who received only cirrhosis. In the first year of treatment, the average out-of-pocket cost was more than $7,000 higher than the cost for cirrhosis patients, which means it was half higher.

Patients with early-stage liver cancer had lower costs.

Those with co-existing medical conditions, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and abdominal fluid, had higher costs.

Most patients are diagnosed with the cancer when it is past an early stage, the researchers noted. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is an increasingly common underlying factor in liver cancer, they said.

“Our data show that HCC care not only imposes a significant financial burden on the healthcare system, but also directly on patients and their family members, who suffer high intrinsic costs,” Singal said. “There is a clear need for interventions and financial support systems in this patient population.”

By 2030, the total cost of cancer care in the United States is expected to reach $250 billion.

Liver cancer deaths are also increasing, partly due to detection at later stages. Liver cancer is expected to be the third leading cause of cancer deaths by 2040, Singal said.

The study was published in Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology.

More information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on liver cancer.

SOURCE: UT Southwestern Medical Center, press release, January 30, 2023

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