Understanding the Financial Cost of Cancer

July 3, 2023

While cancer is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide, cancer treatments continue to become more effective, with survivorship on the rise. However, cancer treatment and care are also becoming increasingly expensive, with the AARP estimating in 2018 that the total average cost of cancer is $150,000. Considering that some treatments can exceed $1 million, it is an unfortunate truth that many cancer survivors enter remission financially in debt.

A diagnosis of cancer can feel overwhelming and stressful, considering the physical and emotional toll that lies ahead. Adding in the financial costs can definitely amp up your stress and anxiety. If you or a loved one has received a cancer diagnosis, you can help alleviate that stress by identifying your medical and non-medical costs and creating a financial plan. This allows you to focus on what is most important – fighting the battle against cancer.

Determining Your Cancer Costs

The cost of your or your loved one’s cancer will depend on several factors: the type and stage of cancer, the cancer treatment plan, the length and frequency of treatment, where treatment will be administered, current health coverage, and any supplemental insurance. There are apparent costs for cancer care that most are familiar with, like doctor visits and medication. But there can also be hidden or unexpected costs along the way. Below is a list of common medical and non-medical costs for cancer:

Common Medical Costs

  • Doctor Appointments
  • Specialist Visits
  • Cancer Treatments/Procedures
  • Imaging and Lab Tests
  • Hospital Stays
  • Medication
  • Home Care
  • Mental Health Counseling

Common Non-Medical Costs

  • Transportation and Travel Costs (i.e., gas; tolls; parking fees; taxi and ridesharing fees; bus, train, or plane fares; lodging; meals; etc.)
  • Family and Living Expenses (i.e., childcare, elder care, hired help for household tasks, mental health support, etc.)
  • Loss of Wages for Patient and Caregiver
  • Wigs and Specialty Clothing
  • Fertility Treatments
  • Physical Therapy
  • Daily Support Equipment
  • Changes to Diet

For some cancer patients, the financial cost may not end once they are in remission. You can find the answers and support you need by speaking with your cancer treatment team.

Support for Cancer Care Costs

The best way to handle and manage your cancer care costs is to communicate with your healthcare team and insurance company. Many hospitals and medical clinics have financial counselors and navigators to help you understand your potential costs. Additionally, most insurers can assign you a case manager that you can directly contact regarding your cancer coverage. Also, keeping track of your paperwork and medical bills will help you with your claims. And if you are participating in a clinical trial, talk to the study’s research team about any costs you may need to consider outside of standard cancer care.

When it comes to creating your financial plan, there are several questions you can ask to gain a better understanding of the cost of your cancer:

  • Can someone help me estimate the total costs of my recommended treatment plan?
  • What other treatment plans are available, and are they less effective?
  • How much is my copay for each treatment/visit, and when is it due?
  • Are lab tests covered by my health insurance?
  • Is there a payment plan available?
  • Does my health insurance need to approve any treatments before I begin?
  • Am I covered if I need to be admitted to the hospital?
  • What outpatient expenses does my health insurance cover?
  • Are there ways to adjust my cancer treatment schedule around my job or childcare?

If you are uninsured, underinsured, or have high out-of-pocket expenses, many national organizations can help you with the different aspects of your cancer care. Partners in Care is one such organization that offers financial assistance to qualifying individuals, so you can focus on beating cancer. Learn more at yourpartnersincare.org/apply.