Breakthrough report counts cost of breast cancer

Testing times: After surgery for breast cancer in 2015, Albion Park's Lynne McGregor paid for a gene test which helped her avoid chemotherapy - but it didn't come cheap. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Testing times: After surgery for breast cancer in 2015, Albion Park's Lynne McGregor paid for a gene test which helped her avoid chemotherapy - but it didn't come cheap. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Albion Park’s Lynne McGregor was told a simple test could predict the risk of her cancer returning – but it came at a cost.

Her specialist told her Oncotype DX testing cost between $4000 and $5000 – but if it indicated a low risk it would mean the 70-year-old could avoid chemotherapy.

She paid the cost – and it was worth it. A low score saved her from undergoing debilitating chemotherapy.

But she’s concerned that the cost would be prohibitive to many – not allowing them to make informed decisions about their treatment.

‘’I’d survived thyroid cancer and then I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015,’’ Mrs McGregor said.

‘’After a mastectomy, I was told about the test which is completed in the US, and so not subsidised by Medicare or private health funds.

‘’I was retired and had a supportive husband so was able to afford it – and got a good result. But for those who can’t afford it – for young families or single people already struggling, it just wouldn’t be an option.’’ 

Mrs McGregor’s story features in a new Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) campaign that shines a spotlight on the financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on women and their families.

The BCNA today released a report The Financial Impact of Breast Cancer –  prepared by Deloitte Access Economics – which is the first of its kind in Australia.

It found that women typically pay around $5000 in out-of-pocket costs in the five years after their diagnosis, with the majority of this in the first two years.

The range of costs was highly variable, with some (12 per cent) having no out-of-pocket costs and one quarter of women paying out more than $17,200.

The figures did not take into account lost wages if a woman needed to take time off work or reduce her hours due to treatment. However BCNA CEO Christine Nolan said the report showed the total number of household hours worked dropped by 50 per cent in the first year after diagnosis.

‘’Our report shows that time away from work can continue beyond the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis and this can significantly impact a household’s financial situation,’’ she said.

The report also showed that women living in rural and regional areas could face extra costs due to travel and accommodation expenses.

The report, underpinned by a survey of almost 2000 Australian women, includes 14 recommendations to reduce the costs.

‘’We hope that private health insurers, government and health service providers will consider our recommendations and work together to reduce the financial impact on Australians with breast cancer,” Ms Nolan said.

“Our report will also guide BCNA’s own advocacy work as we seek to reduce the financial burden on Australians diagnosed with breast cancer and allow them to focus on what is most important at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis – their health.”