The Devastating Cost of Cancer in Latinos


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This year, over 2 million American will get a cancer diagnosis, including many Latinos.

As one of the leading causes of death in Latinos in the U.S., one in five men and one in seven women who are Latino will die from the disease.

Cancer also takes a heavy financial toll on patients, whose survival is dependent upon a variety of factors, including access to quality, often costly, healthcare treatments.

Let’s explore the cost burden of cancer, and what to do about it.

The Cost Burden of Cancer

In 2018, patients and their families paid $5.6 billion out of pocket for cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy drugs, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Source: American Cancer Society

Americans spent a total of $183 billion on cancer-related healthcare in 2015 – an amount that’s projected to increase to $246 billion by 2030.

Cost is especially an issue for the Latino population.

 Latinos with a history of cancer pay more than double the cost for treatment than Latinos without a history of cancer, according to the ACS.

From 2018 to 2019, Latino cancer survivors between 18 and 64 spent $9,119 a year on healthcare while Latinos with no history of cancer spent $3,319 a year.

The cost was even higher for cancer survivors and patients older than 65.

Latino senior cancer survivors spent an average of $22,729 a year and Latino seniors without a history of cancer spent $10,684.

Overall, people of color, such as Latinos, experience financial hardship associated with cancer treatment 12.6% more than their white peers.

The rising costs of cancer care continue to worsen inequities in health and social systems people of color, including Latinos, face. These include barriers in equitable access to income, housing, transportation, healthy food, and healthcare coverage.

Latinos and Health Insurance

One of the biggest barriers to getting affordable, equitable cancer care is insurance, or lack thereof.

28 million Americans reported being uninsured at some point in 2022, and in 2021 34% of the uninsured population were Latino, according to the National Health Interview Survey.

Of the Latinos aged 18 to 64 seeking cancer treatment between 2019 and 2020, 46.1% had private insurance, 27% used Medicaid or other forms of public health insurance, and 17.6% were uninsured.

The survey found that people of color with a history of cancer are more likely to be insured than whites with a history of cancer.

The majority of Latino cancer survivors between 18 and 64 don’t have private health insurance. Of those who do, 38% of those plans come with higher deductibles, which have higher upfront costs.

Due to the cost burden, some Latinos choose to delay treatment until the cancer has reached a more advanced stage, making it more difficult to treat and even more difficult to afford.

The troubling costs have also led Latinos battling cancer to make other sacrifices that could impact their physical wellbeing while receiving treatment.

In Latino cancer patients between the age of 18 and 64, 23% reported delaying care due to cost, 25% admitted to skipping, taking less, delaying, or not getting a medication due to cost, and 43% experienced some level of food insecurity (compared respectively with 14%, 15%, and 17% of their white peers).

A survey conducted in 2022 found that 71% of Latinos dealing with cancer have current or past medical debt.

Credit: American Cancer Society


Ways of Dealing with the Financial Burden of Cancer

Medicaid programs exist to relieve some of the financial strain on low-income individuals dealing with cancer.

Take, for example, Laura Rodriguez of Oklahoma.

Laura Rodriguez. Source: American Cancer Society

Rodriguez, who was pregnant, needed to be checked out for pain and a lump in her breast. But without access to private or employer-sponsored health insurance, she had no way to pay.

Luckily, Rodriguez found out she qualified for Medicaid through her state, which offers low-income pregnant women coverage, and she was able to afford the cost of aggressive treatment.

“My Medicaid coverage left me cancer-free and debt-free. I know some people have large bills. For instance, I got a peek into what a single lifesaving chemotherapy treatment could have cost me when I was mistakenly billed $10,000. I have been very fortunate. Affordable health care means consistency in care, not just for me but my family,” Rodriguez told ACS.

However, not everyone is as fortunate as Rodriguez.

That’s why ACS is diligently working to eliminate Medicaid funding limitations and expand Medicaid coverage in several states.

There are currently 2.2 million low-income individuals who can’t afford to see a doctor because they don’t qualify for Medicaid — 60% of them are people of color.

The organization is also working to expand healthcare for the undocumented.

Of the 21.3 million noncitizens living in the U.S. in 2019, 46% were uninsured.

ACS is also trying to boost minority participation in clinical trials by assisting with non-medical costs, such as transportation and lodging, needed to take part in them.

Why Representation in Clinical Trials Matters

Clinical trials are studies conducted using volunteers that aid researchers in learning how to slow, manage, and treat diseases, such as different types of cancer.

However, the outcomes of these trials are dependent on the diversity of those who volunteer.

The Latino population has some of the lowest representation in clinical trials.

While Latinos currently make up 19.1% of the U.S. population, only 10% of clinical trial participants run by the National Cancer Institute are Latino as of 2019.

“Without an accurate representation of the Latino population in clinical trials, this population may miss out on life-saving opportunities,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

Dr. Ramirez is working hard to increase Latino participation in cancer and Alzheimer’s clinical trials, with help from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.

This work entails informing the public about open clinical trials, lifting up the voices of Latinos participating in clinical trials, and hosting webinars.

To find a clinical trial, visit the Salud America! clinical trials page.

In San Antonio, search the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio’s Find a Clinical Trial database to learn more about available clinical trials and eligibility requirements.



By The Numbers By The Numbers



of life expectancy between some U.S. cities.

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