Understanding the Costs Related to Cancer Care

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2018

A cancer diagnosis can be expensive. And many people have unplanned expenses related to their care. Often, finances are a source of stress and anxiety. Sometimes, costs keep people from completing cancer treatment. This increases health risks. It may also lead to more expenses in the future.

It is important to identify your potential medical and non-medical costs. This information will help you adjust your budget. And it will allow you to seek financial assistance, if needed.

Creating a financial plan helps reduce unnecessary clutter and stress. This allows you to focus on your health and wellbeing.

Factors that contribute to cost of cancer care

Your personal costs will depend on several factors:

  • The type of cancer treatment you receive

  • The length of treatment

  • The location of treatment

  • Your health insurance coverage

  • Whether you have supplemental insurance

The broad spectrum of costs

Some costs might appear more obvious than others. For example, potential medication costs, based on insurance coverage. But you will also need to consider the hidden costs of cancer. Specifically, costs of daily living may increase with long-term illness and treatment.

Along with increased expenses, you may need to work less. As a result, you could earn less money.

Types of medical and non-medical costs

Consider these categories to help you budget appropriately:

Doctor appointments. This includes payments for care you receive at each doctor visit. Typically, your insurance provider requires you to pay a co-payment. This is also called a co-pay. It is a fee you pay for each appointment.

The insurance company sets the co-pay amount, not the doctor. You may also have to pay for tests done during your appointment. For example, laboratory tests, such as blood or urine tests.

Cancer treatment. This includes payments for care you receive during your cancer treatment. For example, each radiation therapy session or chemotherapy infusion.

People participating in a clinical trial may have other cost-related factors to consider. The time span of treatment varies from person to person. Ask how often and how long you may have these costs.

Medication. This includes payments for drugs prescribed during your treatment period. For example, chemotherapy or drugs to help manage side effects.

Transportation and travel. These costs depend on where you are receiving treatment and how you get there.

Examples of transportation and travel expenses include:

  • Gas

  • Tolls

  • Parking

  • Taxis

  • Bus or train fares

  • Airplane fares

Some people choose to receive treatment far from home. In this case, you may need to pay for lodging.

Family and living expenses. These include costs of household upkeep and family care during cancer treatment. For example:

  • Childcare

  • Elder care

  • Support for household tasks like cleaning

  • Counseling

Caregiving, at-home care, and long-term care. This includes extra care a person with cancer may need. For example:

  • Hiring a person to prepare meals or provide transportation to appointments

  • Staying at a specialized facility for extended nursing care

  • Hiring a home health aid

Employment, legal, and financial issues. This includes costs of professional help with employment, legal, or financial issues. Professionals may help with:

  • Coping with a loss of wages by the patient or a caregiver

  • Learning about employment rights under the law

  • Preparing income taxes to account for medical expenses

  • Writing a will

Finding help with the costs related to cancer care

Talk about managing or lowering your care costs with members of your health care team, such as:

These professionals can provide referrals to support services and financial resources. Consider talking with a representative from your doctor’s office or your health insurance provider to learn more about your medical costs. Family members and friends can also help you manage finances.

For help with financial challenges, explore the services available through national and local organizations. And if finances cause significant stress, consider talking with a counselor.

Related Resources

Cancer Legal Resource Center: Patient Legal Handbook