University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Cancer Patients Turn to Crowdfunding to Pay for Medical Care

UCSF Study Shows GoFundMe is Financing Medical Travel, Alternative Treatments - and Funerals

By Elizabeth Fernandez | | September 9, 2019

Cancer Patients Turn to Crowdfunding to Pay for Medical Care

With patients increasingly resorting to crowdfunding websites to pay medical bills, a new UC San Francisco study finds that online donations are sought for lost wages, child care and even occasionally experimental treatments.  

On average, cancer patients are raising about a quarter of their goal of $10,000, the study showed, with many requesting money to supplement health insurance or otherwise defray medical bills. The most pressing need cited in the study was to pay medical bills, which the authors said could be attributed to co-pays, out of pocket drug costs, or high deductibles. 

The study appears online in JAMA Internal Medicine

Benjamin N. Breyer, MD, senior and corresponding author of the study that examined GoFundMe campaigns. 

“The financial consequences of cancer care for patients and their families are substantial,” said senior and corresponding author Benjamin N. Breyer, MD, a UCSF Health urologist and first author of the paper. Breyer is an associate professor of urology at UCSF and chief of urology at UCSF partner hospital Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

“It has been shown previously that patients with cancer, particularly those who are underinsured or lack insurance entirely, may sell possessions or go into debt or bankruptcy to pay for costs associated with care,” Breyer said. “We wanted to gauge how crowdfunding is being used to support oncology care needs, including the financial effect of insurance.”  

Innovations in technology, expensive cutting-edge therapies, and improved access to treatment have contributed to the rising cost of oncologic care in the United States.  

In their study, the authors identified the nation’s 20 most prevalent cancers, including breast cancer, leukemia, lung, brain, colon and pancreatic cancer. They used special software to gather information on 37,344 cancer “campaigns” listed on on Oct. 7, 2018. From those, they delved into slightly more than 1,000 campaigns, assessing a patient’s personal and financial life – including age, cancer type, job status and treatment plans -- from self-reported data.