WEDNESDAY, June 8 (HealthDay News) -- As cancer patients' survival times increase, so do their bankruptcy rates.

That's the finding of a new study by researchers who compared U.S. bankruptcy court records to cancer registry data from nearly 232,000 adult cancer survivors in western Washington over 14 years. The investigators reported that, on average, bankruptcy rates quadrupled within five years of cancer diagnosis.

Compared to the general population, bankruptcy rates among cancer survivors were nearly twice as high one year after diagnosis, and the median time to bankruptcy was 2.5 years after cancer diagnosis.

"The risk of bankruptcy for cancer patients is not well known, and previous studies have relied on individual self-reports about medically related reasons for bankruptcy filing," study leader Dr. Scott Ramsey, a health care economist and internist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said in a center news release. "By linking two irrefutable government records of cancer and bankruptcy, we are able to determine how financial insolvency risk varies by cancer type, treatment and other factors."

The risk of bankruptcy was highest among patients with cancer of the lung, thyroid and leukemia/lymphoma. People over 65 -- who are typically covered by Medicare -- have a much lower risk of bankruptcy than their younger counterparts. The researchers also noted that the number of U.S. cancer patients declaring bankruptcy has increased significantly since the recent economic downturn began.

"Patients diagnosed with cancer may face significant financial stress due to income loss and out-of-pocket costs associated with their treatment," Ramsey said in the news release.

The study was presented this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago. Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has more about the costs of cancer care.