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ACS CAN finds majority of cancer patients and survivors have or expect to incur medical debt

Latest Survivor Views survey shows impacts of cancer-related medical debt are unequal and deepen disparities.

On May 9, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) released its latest Survivor Views survey. The survey, which surveyed participants nationwide who have been diagnosed with or treated for cancer in the last seven years, shows nearly half of cancer patients and survivors have medical debt related to their cancer.

Nearly half of cancer patients and survivors surveyed (47%) have had medical debt related to their cancer, and another 13% expect to incur medical debt as they proceed with their care. Among those with cancer-related medical debt, nearly all (98%) were insured when their medical debt occurred.  The majority of those with cancer debt (49%) have carried over $5,000 in medical debt. Sixty-nine percent have carried this debt for more than a year and over a third (35%) have had medical debt related to their cancer for more than three years.

The financial and health implications of medical debt for cancer patients and survivors are severe. According to the survey, an individual with cancer-related medical debt was three times more likely to be behind on recommended cancer screenings in comparison to those who have been able to pay for their care without accumulating debt. Nearly half (49%) saw their credit score decrease with 30% having difficulty qualifying for loans.

“The findings present a grim picture where the burden of medical debt is a common occurrence following a cancer diagnosis – even amongst those who are insured,” said ACS CAN President Lisa Lacasse. “This shouldn’t be our nation’s reality. The data further reiterates the urgent need for Congress as well as state lawmakers to all work to enact policy solutions to reduce the massive impact of medical debt by both preventing it altogether and helping families who are already facing medical debt.”

The impacts of cancer-related medical debt are not felt equally and further deepen disparities. Black and Hispanic patients and survivors with medical debt are about twice as likely as White respondents to report being denied care due to their debt (13% and 14%, respectively). Black respondents are also more likely to report being contacted by collections agencies (66%) and to feel harassed by them (44%).

The survey also found cancer patients and survivors are very supportive of ACS CAN’s new policy recommendations, designed to help reduce medical debt related to cancer and to help families already struggling with medical debt.

The survey was released during ACS CAN’s 13th annual National Policy Forum on the Future of Health Care in Washington, D.C. As part of ACS CAN’s ongoing advocacy work to help improve access to quality, affordable health insurance coverage, this year’s forum focused on the complexities of medical debt and its implications for cancer patients and their families. A recording of the event will be available for viewing at Please note that you must be registered to view the replay. If you have not registered, please click on the "If you did not pre-register, click here" and enter the information required to view the recording.

ACS CAN’s Survivor Views research initiative was designed to support the organization’s efforts to end suffering and death from cancer through public policy advocacy. Data provided by cancer patients and survivors allows for a greater understanding of their experiences and opinions on cancer-related issues and gives voice to cancer patients and survivors in the shaping and advocating of public policies that help prevent, detect, and treat cancer and promote a more positive quality of life for those impacted. 

The data was collected between March 18 and April 14, 2024. A total of 1,284 cohort participants responded to the survey. Differences reported between groups are tested for statistical significance at a 95% confidence interval.  

Read the full polling memo here.  

For more information on Survivor Views, visit ACS CAN’s website at

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