There was a time in Arkansas and much of the rest of the country when polite people didn’t utter the word “cancer.” If you were among the unfortunate to get such a diagnosis, others would often whisper how you had “the big C.” The euphemism tended to be used because, decades ago, a diagnosis of cancer was tantamount to a death sentence. Treatments were often as deadly as the disease, if they existed at all.

These days, treatments are better and remission and cure is more common. It’s still scary to get a diagnosis of cancer, but the odds of recovery are much better than they used to be. The trouble these days may be that the cost of the treatment can leave the patient and his or her family on the financial ropes, deep in debt and desperate for relief.

One viable option that’s available, but which has suffered because of an unwarranted social stigma, is debt management through personal bankruptcy. Indeed, a new study by a group out of Washington state has determined that filings for bankruptcy relief are more than twice as high for cancer patients as they are for the average population.

Researchers came to this conclusion by cross referencing about 198,000 adult cancer patients with an equal number of healthy adults. The two groups were screened to be similar in terms of age range, gender and demographic area, too. When the authors looked at bankruptcy filings for both groups between 1995 and 2009, they found that the number of filings for cancer patients was slightly more than double the rate for individuals without cancer.

The research didn’t delve into why this happened, but other studies have indicated that health insurance may not be a guaranteed cushion. According one public health expert, previous studies have shown that three-fourths of those who have reported that illness was a major reason for them filing for bankruptcy had private coverage.

That being the case, there are those who dismiss the notion that the coming expansion of health care through the federal Affordable Care Act will do much to stave off financial difficulties. As an alternative, they say cancer treatment providers should do more to assess patient financial stability and offer credit counseling as part of their care package.

Source: NBC News, “Cancer increases bankruptcy risk, even for insured,” Barbara Mantel, May 15, 2013