Macmillan urges financial advice to cancer sufferers
A charity is urging the Welsh government to ensure all cancer sufferers are given financial advice when diagnosed with the disease.
Macmillan Cancer Support said people were often unprepared for the financial cost of cancer and do not know of benefits they are entitled to.
An average patient in Wales faces over £1,500 in extra costs, including travel to hospital, on top of loss in income.
The Welsh government said it was working to ease the financial burden.
Research published by Macmillan suggested some 95% of patients face an increase in travel costs as they travel back and forth to hospital for treatment and follow-up appointments.
On average, this amounts to an estimated £275 per patient in the first year, rising to £400 over five years.
It found that an average £400 is spent on new clothes over five years as patients often lose or gain weight while undergoing treatment such chemotherapy, while wigs may also be needed.
ONE COUPLE'S EXPERIENCE
Ian Cox from Ceredigion was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in June 2011.
He ran a building firm and employed both his sons but was soon too ill to work.
The bank then recalled a loan, they were made bankrupt and the family home was repossessed.
Mr Cox and his wife Nikki were rehoused by the council but their sons had to find other accommodation.
"Cancer is expensive. It costs money to travel to hospital; it costs money to heat the house, to buy new clothes and specialist foods - the bills don't stop coming," said Mrs Cox, who now works part time and cares for her husband.
"At one point we had no money between June and October.
"It's the little things which you don't think of. Ian needed new clothes as he lost so much weight and we needed thicker duvets to keep him warm.
"We also needed £500 to fill up the oil tank for winter."
After receiving advice, Mrs Cox added: "There should be something in place so you don't have to worry about money. That should be automatic."
Energy bills also rise as a patient is often home more and other costs can include childcare and household modifications.
It comes at a time when sufferers may also face a reduced income if they are unable to work, the charity said in its report, Counting the Cost of Cancer.
It added that some cancer sufferers may also lose money due to UK government changes to the welfare system.
The charity said it wanted every person affected by cancer in Wales to be made aware of their financial rights and entitlements from the point of diagnosis.
It is urging the Welsh government to ensure that health professionals offer the information and advice as soon as possible.
Susan Morris, general manager for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales, said the financial impact of cancer was a growing problem in Wales.
"When people think of cancer they don't usually think of money," she said.
"But the sad fact is that for many people who get cancer, money is one of their biggest worries."
She added: "Access to timely and appropriate benefits advice can significantly reduce financial hardship, alleviate anxiety and stress, improve quality of life and help people make informed choices throughout their cancer journey."
COUNTING CANCER'S COST
- More than 50% of people with a cancer diagnosis say they are worried about their finances.
- The average person loses an
- People living in Powys Deal with the largest hike in outgoings, with an estimated extra £2,500 for increased costs over five years
- People in the Vale of Glamorgan experienced the greatest loss of income - up to an estimated £18,000 over five years
- 43% in employment at the time of diagnosis experience loss of income.
- More than four in 10 cancer patients say the financial impact has made them feel more stressed or anxious.
- About a quarter say it has caused a strain on their personal relationships.
- Source: Macmillan Cancer Support
At the moment, patients and their families are not routinely offered financial advice and support when they receive a diagnosis.
Fewer than half of people with a cancer diagnosis in Wales say they receive financial advice or support from any source, said the charity, which has its own welfare benefits advisers.
This figure falls even further among the over-65s, where fewer than one in three receive support, the research found.
The Welsh government said its Cancer Delivery Plan says that more care and treatment should be provided at local hospitals, reducing the need for patients to travel.
"But for rarer cancers, patients may still need to travel to specialist cancer centres to ensure the best outcome," a spokesman said.
"It also makes clear that following diagnosis, a patient's needs are assessed and information is provided on access to financial help and support.
"In addition, patients on certain benefits are entitled to reclaim some or all of their travel costs or those with a clinical need can arrange transport through the Patient Care Services."
He added that cancer patients also benefit from free prescriptions and free hospital car parking in Wales.