Financial Impact on Caregivers of Spouses With Cancer

Get Permission

In a study reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Bradley et al found that approximately one-third of caregivers of spouses with cancer reported they had stopped working and had increased household debt. In the subgroup with a lower-than-median household income, cancer caregivers were more likely to report decreased income and increased household debt vs caregivers of spouses with noncancer conditions.

Study Details

The investigators focused on data from the Health and Retirement Study (2002–2020) to compare employed caregivers younger than 65 caring for a spouse diagnosed with cancer (n = 103) and a matched control group caring for a spouse with other conditions (n = 515). Matching included age, census region, education, race/ethnicity, self-reported health status, and annual household income higher than $75,000 at baseline. The study assessed changes for up to 4 years from baseline. Statistical significance was defined as P < .10.

Key Findings  

Stopping work was reported by 35.0% of cancer caregivers vs 26.4% of noncancer caregivers (P < .10). Increased household debt was reported by 30.1% vs 27.8%, and decreased income was reported by 61.2% vs 56.5% (neither statistically significant).

Among caregivers in households with a median household income below the median of $75,000, cancer caregivers were more likely than noncancer caregivers to report decreased income (64.5% vs 51.1%, P < .10), increased household debt (40.8% vs 26.2%, P < .10), and stopping work (46.3% vs 27.5%, P < .05).

Mixed results were found for changes in mental health domains. Noncancer caregivers were more likely to report not enjoying life vs cancer caregivers (11.8% vs 5.0%, P < .05). Numeric differences favoring each group over the other were observed, but no other statistically significant differences in domains were observed between the two groups. 

The investigators concluded: “Cancer caregivers from low-income households were more likely to increase debt and incur work loss compared with noncancer caregivers in similar households. Policies such as paid sick leave and family leave are needed for this strained and important population who have financial and employment responsibilities in addition to caregiving.”

Cathy J. Bradley, PhD, MPA, of the Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Comprehensive Cancer Center, Aurora, is the corresponding author of the Journal of Clinical Oncology article.

Disclosure: The study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.