Nearly 16,000 Australian women and 150 men were diagnosed with breast cancer last year, the Breast Cancer Network Australia in conjunction with Deloitte Access Economics revealed in a recent report.
Estimated to be the most common cancer diagnosed in women in 2017, at 28.4 per cent of all new cancers, the Deloitte survey revealed that the cost of treatment and lost wages has seen 86 per cent of Australians diagnosed incur out-of-pocket expenses.
Their survey of 1,613 people reported the average out-of-pocket cost was a “considerable” $4,809, however once the impact of reduced hours worked was accounted for, the cost balloons out to an average $9,389, and as much as $37,174.
Where’s the money coming from?
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, breast cancer incidence increases with age, with three out of every four cases occurring in women older than 50.
While about one in 250 women in their 30s will develop breast cancer over the next decade, one in 30 women in their 70s are at risk over the next 10 years.
In order to pay for this, 67 per cent of the respondents to the Deloitte survey dipped into their savings.
A further 12 per cent claimed income protection insurance and 11 per cent were given money or borrowed money from family, friends, or community fundraising.
However, 8 per cent also dipped into their superannuation savings and 7 per cent were required to return to work when they had not expected to.
Four per cent had to delay their retirement altogether and 3 per cent re-mortgaged their home.
The report also found that the median hours worked by someone undergoing treatment drops by 50 per cent, compared to the 12 months prior to diagnosis and remained 13 per cent lower in the 12 months after completion of treatment.
“Out-of pocket costs are a known issue in the Australian healthcare system,” Deloitte wrote. “Over the previous decade, funding by individuals in the form of out-of -pocket costs was the fastest growing area of non-government health expenditure.”
Higher socioeconomic status? Higher prevalence
Interestingly, the report noted that the incidence rate of breast cancer increases with improving socioeconomic status, with the rate in the highest group sitting 20 per cent higher than that of the lowest group.
“This is in contrast to most other cancers that affect people of lower socioeconomic status,” Deloitte said.
“As noted by the AIHW (2012), this may be explained, at least to some degree, by differences in fertility, reproductive and lifestyle factors associated with higher socioeconomic status. Consequently, breast cancer may result in higher level of lost incomes due to reduced earning capacity following a breast cancer diagnosis.”
However, according to a Breast Cancer Network Australia survey released earlier this year, one in three women with breast cancer who tried to access their superannuation had their requests denied. The most common reason for rejection was disagreements with doctors over life expectancy.
Recognising this, the network submitted to Treasury in June that young women with breast cancer could be heavily disadvantaged by moves to amend life/risk insurance in superannuation to be of an opt-out nature.
The network said at the time: “It is of great concern to BCNA that, despite the existence of group insurance attached to superannuation, a significant number of our members report difficulty accessing their policies when they need to.
“We remain concerned, however, about unintended consequences that have arisen from this change, particularly around access to life insurance death benefits attached to superannuation policies, which are commonly paid out only when life expectancy is 12 months or less.
“While some superannuation funds are renegotiating arrangements with their insurance providers to allow death benefits to be paid to terminally ill members with a life expectancy of 24 months, this practice has not yet been adopted as an industry standard, meaning people may not be aware whether their own fund has made this change.”
The Breast Cancer Network Australia is currently calling on Australian women to share their stories of how a breast cancer diagnosis impacted their work-life.
The network last week said: “Many face significant challenges in returning to, or continuing to work during treatment for breast cancer.
“People with breast cancer have identified returning to work as a significant milestone in their recovery. However, many have experienced difficulties in returning to work due to functional difficulties such as ongoing fatigue, pain, cognitive deficits, lymphoedema, anxiety and depression.
“As well as the financial impact, disruption to work both during and after cancer treatment can have a profound impact on peoples’ psychological wellbeing, including an impact on people’s self-identity, social isolation and feelings of self-worth.”