Survey: Americans See Cost as Main Barrier to Cancer Care

Jackie Syrop

More than 90% of Americans believe that the cost burden of cancer is too high, according to a large, nationally representative survey conducted for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

More than 90% of Americans believe that the cost burden of cancer is too high, according to a large, nationally representative survey conducted for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). High treatment costs are compromising cancer care, the survey’s responses suggest, with more than a quarter of respondents saying that either they or an immediate family member with cancer have taken actions to reduce treatment costs that could have a negative impact on their treatment:

  • 9% skipped doctors’ appointments
  • 8% refused treatment
  • 8% postponed filling or have not filled prescriptions
  • 8% skipped doses of prescribed medications
  • 7% cut pills in half

If diagnosed in the future, 35% of those surveyed lacked confidence that they would receive timely, best-in-class cancer care, largely because they felt they could not afford it. Among those who are undergoing treatment or have a loved one doing so, more than 44% are concerned about mounting costs. Of those paying for a family member’s cancer treatment, 68% are concerned about being able to afford it.

Concerns about cancer are greatest among Americans with experience of a loved one who has had cancer: 60% of these respondents say that they are worried about being a burden on family and friends if they personally are diagnosed, compared with 49% of those with no experience with cancer.

A large majority of Americans believe the federal government should act to lower prescription drug costs: 92% said Medicare should be allowed to directly negotiate prescription drug prices with drug makers, 86% said the US government should regulate the price of cancer drugs, and 80% said it should be legal for US residents to buy cancer drugs from other countries. Ninety-one percent believe that the federal government should dedicate substantial funding to diagnose, prevent, and treat cancer, and 73% support greater federal investment in cancer research, even if doing so means higher taxes or adding to the deficit.

The survey also revealed a lack of awareness about cancer risks. Although a majority of Americans correctly identified tobacco use (78%) and sun exposure (66%) as risk factors for cancer, far fewer are aware of other lifestyle factors that increase their cancer risk, notably, obesity; just 31% realize that obesity is a risk factor for cancer despite obesity’s current ranking as the second leading preventable cause of cancer. Fewer than a third of those surveyed recognize alcohol as a risk factor for cancer, and 80% are unaware that viruses can exacerbate the risk of certain cancers.

The National Cancer Opinion Survey was conducted online by Harris Poll for ASCO from July 10 to 18, 2017, among 4016 nationally representative US adults ages 18 and older. Among those surveyed, 1508 had been diagnosed with cancer themselves or had a loved one who had been diagnosed with cancer.