Financial Toxicity Is a Common Complication of Gynecologic Cancers

Neil Osterweil

April 02, 2020

More than one-fifth of patients being treated for gynecologic malignancies experience financial toxicity, results of a single-center study suggest.

Among 5,188 patients treated for gynecologic cancers, 1,155 (22%) experienced financial toxicity, measured by bills sent to collection, financial assistance, bankruptcy, or similar measures, reported Emeline Aviki, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, and colleagues.

"In any clinical study reporting that over 20% of patients develop a serious complication as a result of treatment, financial toxicity in this case, future efforts to address the complication are critically important," Dr. Aviki said in an interview.

Her group's study is detailed in an abstract that had been slated for presentation at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology's Annual Meeting on Women's Cancer. The meeting was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study Details

To address financial problems patients with gynecologic cancer face, MSKCC assembled a multidisciplinary team that included the strategy and innovation department, the patient financial services department, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists.

The team's first priority was to measure the prevalence of financial burden among the center's patients using readily available institutional data. Financial toxicity was defined as one or more of the following:

  • Two or more bills sent for collection.

  • Application for and granting of a time-payment plan.

  • Bill settlement.

  • Bankruptcy.

  • Enrollment in a financial assistance plan.

  • Finance-related social work visit.

In a univariate analysis, factors significantly associated with financial toxicity, and the proportion of patients in each category affected, included cervical cancer (31%), stage 3 (29%) or 4 disease (27%), age younger than 30 years (32%), nonpartnered marital status (28%), black (38%) or Hispanic (33%) race/ethnicity, self-pay (42%) or commercial insurance (26%), clinical trial participation (27%), nine or more imaging studies (33%), one or more emergency department visits (31%), inpatient stays of 20 days or longer (35%), and 20 or more outpatient clinic visits (35%).

In a multivariate analysis controlling for disease and demographics, factors that remained significantly associated with financial toxicity (P < .05) included younger age, nonpartnered marital status, black and Hispanic race/ethnicity, commercial insurance, more imaging studies, and more outpatient physician visits.

Implications for Patients and Providers

"We were really surprised to see the significant increase in financial toxicity associated with patients undergoing more frequent imaging studies," Dr. Aviki said. "There are randomized controlled studies showing that patients with ovarian cancer do not benefit from more frequent surveillance imaging. However, many providers across the country still order scans every 3 or 4 months. With this new data showing increased financial toxicity in patients who undergo more frequent scans, I think many will pause before ordering their next surveillance scan or at least have the conversation with patients to make sure no financial harm is being done."

Dr. Aviki and colleagues used the data from this study to create a risk-stratification tool that can be employed to identify patients with gynecologic cancers who are at increased risk for financial toxicity, who can then be offered help through patient financial services.

In addition, the investigators are working to improve provider knowledge about the costs and financial implications surveillance imaging can have for patients.

"When considering interventions that might reduce patient financial burden, we questioned what role providers should play in patient affordability issues," Dr. Aviki said. "Many providers may believe it is unethical to be informed of their patient's risk of financial toxicity as it may affect their treatment recommendations. Others may believe it is important for them to be fully aware of any and all treatment-related risks their patients face."

To get a better sense of how providers see their role in patient finances and care affordability, Dr. Aviki and colleagues surveyed more than 350 attending physicians at MSKCC. The investigators plan to use the results to develop provider-focused interventions.

The study was internally funded. Dr. Aviki reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Aviki EM et al. SGO 2020, Abstract 144.

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