How Costly is Depression for Cancer Patients?

April 25, 2018

A recent study conducted by Mausbach et al. entitled “Healthcare Costs of Depression in Patients Diagnosed with Cancer” found that cancer patients with depression had total annual health care charges that were 113 percent higher than non-depressed cancer patients. For example, patients with depression had estimated average charges of $235,337 in comparison to the average charges of non-depressed patients, which totaled to $110,650.

The goal of this study was to assess the impact of depression on health care costs for patients in the first year following their cancer diagnosis. The study was conducted in 2014 at the University of California San Diego Healthcare System where 2,051 depressed patients and 11,182 non-depressed patients facing a cancer diagnosis were evaluated. Mausbach and colleagues divided the health care charges that they analyzed into three categories: outpatient or ambulatory office visits, emergency department visits, and hospital visits. Among those surveyed were patients who were actively undergoing treatment (i.e. chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery). The severities of each cancer type, such as stage and grade, were not differentiated unless the patient had metastatic cancer, which they did account for.

Mausbach and colleagues created further subgroups according to insurance plan, severity of depression, and type of outpatient or ambulatory office visit. Since the cost of mental health visits was part of the cost of office visits, office visit charges for patients with depression were 69 percent higher than those for non-depressed patients. Patients with depression also had higher emergency department visit charges and hospital visit charges than non-depressed patients.

Mausbach and colleagues concluded that patients with both cancer and depression accrue much higher annual health care charges than non-depressed cancer patients. Since greater health care utilization results in higher costs for cancer patients, Mausbach argues that prevention or early treatment of depression could greatly reduce the cost of care for patients.

What do these findings mean for patients?

The findings from this study point to the mission and work of our Cancer Policy Institute (CPI). The psychosocial needs of cancer patients must be addressed with the same attention and importance as the physical needs of patients. As evidenced by this study, cancer patients who have been diagnosed with depression face greater obstacles than the cancer patient without depression – and far more so than the average person who is not facing a cancer diagnosis.

The last thing someone needs after being diagnosed with cancer is the knowledge that the long-term emotional and mental implications of a diagnosis will drive up their health care costs for years to come. The financial ramifications of a cancer diagnosis should not be as difficult as the fight against cancer itself. Our CancerSupportSource (CSS) can help identify key risk factors for anxiety and depression. This brief survey helps patients talk about how they’re coping and what their main concerns are, which can lead to a better quality of life, adherence to treatment regimens, and improved patient satisfaction. With over 170 locations worldwide, including 46 licensed affiliates and health care partnerships, our resources are available to anyone who needs to talk about their cancer diagnosis and the impact that it has had on their life. Through the toll-free Cancer Support Helpline (1-888-793-9355), we offer free support and counseling for cancer patients and their loved ones.