Understanding the Costs Related to Cancer Care

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2022

Cancer care and treatment can be expensive. And many people have unplanned expenses related to their care.

Finances can be a source of stress and anxiety, and the topic may feel overwhelming. Sometimes, costs keep people from completing cancer treatment. This increases health risks. It may also lead to more expenses in the future.

A good first step is to identify your potential medical and non-medical costs. This information will help you adjust your budget and to seek financial guidance and assistance, if needed. Creating a financial plan helps reduce stress. This allows you to focus on your health and wellbeing.

What contributes to the 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 specific health insurance coverage

  • Whether you have supplemental insurance

What are the hidden costs of cancer care?

Some costs might appear more obvious than others. For example, if you are prescribed a medication for cancer, many people are already familiar with figuring out its cost based on their specific health insurance. But you will also need to consider the hidden costs of cancer. Specifically, costs of daily living may increase in different ways. For instance, if you need to regularly travel for treatment, costs for gas, parking, or public transportation fares will build up over time. Other possible hidden costs are described below.

Along with increased expenses, you may need to work less. As a result, you could earn less money. If you have short-term disability insurance, you may be able to use this during treatment and recovery. However, short-term disability may only cover a portion of your wages. In the United States, several states have state-sponsored disability plans including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, and Washington.

Common medical costs for cancer care

In making your list of medical and non-medical costs, consider these categories:

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. The time span of treatment varies from person to person. Ask how often and how long you may have these costs.

People participating in a clinical trial should talk with the study's research team about cost-related factors to consider, as they may be different or the same as people receiving standard of care treatment. Learn more about health care coverage of clinical trials.

Medication. This includes payments for each drug prescribed during your treatment period. For example, this category includes chemotherapy to treat the cancer, as well as supportive care drugs to help manage side effects, like anti-nausea medication.

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 and from appointments

  • Staying at a specialized facility for extended nursing care

  • Hiring a home health aid

Common non-medical costs for cancer care

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 fees

  • Taxi or ridesharing company fares

  • Bus or train fares

  • Airplane fares

Some people receive treatment far from home. In this case, you may need to pay for lodging, meals, and other related travel expenses.

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

  • Childcare

  • Elder care

  • Hiring help for household tasks, like cleaning

  • Mental health support, such as counseling

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

Other costs. Buying things such as wigs, specialty bras or other clothing, fertility treatments, and certain types of foods may all create extra costs for patients. These depend on the type of cancer, the length of treatment, side effects, and other factors.

Understanding more about the cost of cancer care

Many people find it difficult or awkward to talk about their personal financial matters with others. However, it can be very helpful to talk with people with experience on how to manage or lower medical care costs. Members of your health care team who can help include:

These professionals can provide referrals to local and national support services and financial resources. In particular, consider talking with a representative from your doctor’s office and/or your health insurance provider to learn more about your medical costs. There may be a way to negotiate a payment plan with the health care provider.

If your health insurance is provided through your employer, it may be helpful to talk with your company's Human Resources department as well, including about your level of health insurance coverage and understanding its full benefits.

Consider asking family members and friends to help, including with tracking your bills and other paperwork. For help with financial challenges, explore the services available through national and local organizations focused on helping people with cancer with medical costs.

Questions to ask the health care team

  • Who can help me estimate the total cost of the recommended treatment plan?

  • Can you recommend a financial counselor or navigator to talk with?

  • If I cannot afford this treatment plan, can we consider other treatment options that do not cost as much?

  • Does my health insurance company need to approve any or all of the treatment plan before I begin treatment?

  • Is the treatment center that you are recommending in my insurance plan's network?

  • What expenses does my health insurance cover if I need to be admitted to the hospital?

  • What expenses does my health insurance cover if I receive treatment as an outpatient?

  • Are there ways to change my treatment schedule, if necessary, to work around my job or childcare?

  • Will there be a co-pay for each individual treatment?

  • Where can I get low-cost or free counseling or support to help me cope with the stress of my diagnosis?

Related Resources

Cancer Legal Resource Center: Patient Legal Handbook

American Cancer Society: The Costs of Cancer Report (PDF)

PAN Foundation