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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC: Cancer Research Team Awarded NCI Grant to Help Patients Manage Financial Burdens of Treatment

Professor of health policy and management Dr. Stephanie Wheeler is part of a research team that has received a 4-year, more than $1.87 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the impact of establishing financial navigation services at five rural cancer centers in North Carolina. These services will guide patients in managing the financial burdens associated with cancer treatment.

Dr. Wheeler’s team at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she serves as the associate director of community outreach and engagement, includes assistant professors Dr. Sarah Birken and Dr. Cleo Samuel, also from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The researchers will work with existing financial support resources in five rural North Carolina counties to connect with patients seeking strategies to mitigate the complicated and oftentimes overwhelming costs they may face. Such costs have collectively been termed “financial toxicity” by researchers because they are not simply associated with payment for cancer treatment; they can also come from lost wages, the psychological burden associated with high-cost care, insurance complexities and potentially harmful behavioral strategies that patients sometimes use to cope with costs, such as delaying treatment or even skipping it altogether.

As Dr. Wheeler and her team discovered, trained financial navigators often are essential in helping patients identify available assistance programs, especially if a patient is uninsured or underinsured.

“Our intervention addresses the financial difficulty that so many cancer patients face, which essentially is: How do you afford cancer treatment?” says Dr. Wheeler.

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