WEDNESDAY, June 8, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many cancer patients can't afford to see their doctor or take the medications they've been prescribed, a new study finds.
And the problem will likely only get worse as the cost of cancer treatments continues to rise, the study authors said.
"You can prescribe the best drug in the world, but if patients can't afford it and they can't get it, then it won't be effective," said study author Dr. Greg Knight. He is chief fellow with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine's division of hematology and oncology.
"We saw a significant portion of patients in our study who were stretching their prescriptions or not coming to the doctor's office," Knight said in a university news release.
The researchers reviewed survey results from nearly 2,000 patients at the N.C. Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C. The participants were all 18 and older, and had been diagnosed with cancer at least 90 days earlier.
The results showed that 26 percent of the patients said they had to pay more for medical care than they could afford. Of those patients, 18 percent said they didn't fill prescriptions for medications and 11.5 percent said they didn't go to doctors' visits during the past year due to costs.
Missing a doctor's appointment or not filling a prescription can be dangerous for cancer patients, the study authors noted.
"Patients with cancer can be on highly regimented therapy that can have significant side effects that need to be closely monitored," Knight explained.
"These patients represent a particularly vulnerable population because of the treatments they are receiving, and require close monitoring for both response and known side effects of their treatment," he added.
The study findings point to the need to help cancer patients locate and use support programs, the researchers said.
"From an intervention standpoint, I think the first priority is being able to identify these patients early, and the second is being able to bring all of the resources from public and private sources to patients, and intervene that way," Knight said.
The study was presented Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, in Chicago. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they appear in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Cancer Society has more about finding and paying for treatment.