Cancer and your finances
After a cancer diagnosis, many people worry about how they will manage the financial impact.
There are many different types of costs that can add up during diagnosis, treatment and recovery. These will vary depending on cancer type, stage and treatment options. For example, a person diagnosed with early-stage cancer may only have surgery, while a person diagnosed with a blood cancer may have long-term treatments.
You may have health-related expenses, such as medicines, equipment and specialist fees. There can also be extra costs for transport, accommodation, child care or complementary therapies. At the same time, cancer may mean a loss of income if you or your partner/carer has to take time off work. At a time when people should be focused on their treatment and recovery, these costs can be a source of stress and worry.
Here we outline some key questions about managing your finances when you are diagnosed with cancer. You can ask your doctor, social worker or cancer nurse to help you work through these, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Learn more about:
- How will my income be affected?
- How much will treatment cost?
- How do I manage my finances?
- What help is available?
- How to deal with financial stress
- How Cancer Council’s Legal and Financial Support Service can help you
How will my income be affected?
The way that cancer affects your income will depend on your individual circumstances. You may work on a casual, part-time or full-time basis, be self-employed, or work from home.
If you are working, ask your doctor how much time off you are likely to need or whether you will be able to work throughout your treatment and recovery. Most people who want to continue to work during treatment are able to do so in some capacity.
Check with your employer about leave entitlements and flexible working arrangements. If you are self-employed, you may need to find some other sources of income.
If you have a partner or carer, they can ask their employer to confirm their leave entitlements – they may be able to take carer’s leave or unpaid leave to look after you and/or your children, if you have any.
Check whether you have any income protection insurance (also known as salary continuance insurance). You might have taken out a separate policy, or it could have been provided by your employer or attached to your superannuation. If you do have this type of insurance, find out whether it covers your situation, and whether there is a waiting period before you can make a claim.
For more on this, see Cancer, work and you.
My income was reduced when I cut back my working hours, but I was able to scrape by. I saved up some money during my paid sick leave.
How much will treatment cost?
Before you decide whether to have treatment as a private or public patient, ask the doctor and hospital:
- how much will consultations and treatment cost
- will there be any up-front or out-of-pocket (gap) expenses
- do you offer flexible repayment plans?
The out-of-pocket costs associated with cancer may include:
- general practitioner (GP) and specialist gap payments
- scans or tests outside the public health system
- over-the-counter medicines
- medical appliances and devices such as breast prostheses
- travel and accommodation
- personal care, such as managing side effects from radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
If you have private health insurance, ask the insurer about your gap cover. Gap cover insures you against some of the difference between what a hospital or specialist charges you and what Medicare will give you back (the gap payment). Health funds make arrangements with individual doctors about gap payments. Choosing to see the doctors and hospitals that participate in your health insurer’s medical gap scheme can help to reduce any out-of-pocket costs that you may be charged.
People who live further away from the treating hospital may have extra expenses. If you need to travel away from home for treatment, financial help is available for transport and accommodation costs.
How do I manage my finances?
The financial impact of cancer is different for each person and will depend on the cancer type, stage and treatment, as well as your financial situation before the diagnosis.
If you are struggling financially, talk to your doctor. They may suggest ways to reduce your treatment costs, or they might be able to keep seeing you as a public patient. Your doctor can refer you to a social worker or welfare officer for additional advice. In some cases, if you have no other resources to pay for treatment, you may be able to access your superannuation.
An important step in managing your finances is to fully assess your situation (see How do I prepare a budget?). If you are experiencing financial hardship, take action early to deal with the situation. The longer you wait, the more worrying the debts will become. Let the people you owe money to (your creditors) know about your diagnosis and money situation. Often they will try to help you.
Sorting out financial issues can strain your wellbeing and your relationships. Talking to a trusted family member or a professional adviser about your finances may help you to clarify your situation and find solutions.
There are several specialist financial and support services available. Call 13 11 20 to connect with Cancer Council’s Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service, or you can contact these organisations.
What help is available
When cancer affects your finances, seeing a professional for advice can help. Whether you should see a financial counsellor or financial planner will depend on your circumstances.
Financial counsellors – These qualified professionals provide practical suggestions to help people manage their personal budget and finances, especially those on low incomes; will act as a negotiator and advocate for people who are at financial risk; and can refer people to legal advice or other services. Financial counsellors provide a free service to their clients; they are not allowed to charge fees or commissions.
Financial planners – These qualified professionals provide investment advice to help people manage their assets and achieve their financial goals. They work for businesses with an Australian financial services licence. Financial planners do not usually provide a free service and will charge fees.
To find a financial counsellor or financial planner, see Support and information.
You hear that once people are in the credit trap, they can’t get out of it. I called Cancer Council and ended up speaking to a financial counsellor. She helped me sort things out with the bank. My lifestyle went from unmanageable to manageable – it meant I could actually look after myself financially. — Vincent
How to deal with financial stress
Financial issues are the leading cause of stress for Australians. People with cancer have to manage the cost of treatment, but also the income lost from taking time off work. They may have difficulty balancing their budget, possibly for the first time in their lives, and some can be tipped into financial crisis.
This financial stress adds to the worry of being diagnosed with cancer and may feel overwhelming. For some people, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and conflict with family members.
If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer. Getting help with your finances can take a great weight off your mind, but if you are finding it hard to cope emotionally, there are several options to consider:
- Talk to your GP, as counselling and/or medicine – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with an accredited counsellor or a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible.
- Check whether you can talk to a psychologist or social worker at your cancer care centre. Your local Cancer Council may also run a counselling program in your area.
- See Emotions and cancer.
- To find information and support about coping with depression and anxiety, visit beyondblue. For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
How Cancer Council’s Legal and Financial Support Service can help you
It is estimated that 60% of people affected by cancer face distress from legal and financial challenges, in addition to their health concerns.
Cancer Council’s Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service may be able to help if you or someone in your family has cancer, or is caring for someone with cancer, and you need assistance with legal, financial, small business or workplace issues.
The program may be able to connect you with professionals who can help you with:
- preparing wills and power of attorney documents
- early access to superannuation
- insurance claims and disputes
- credit and debt issues
- employment law advice or managing workplace issues
- handling disruption to your small business.
Advice is provided by legal, financial and human resources professionals, who volunteer their time. The program is free for people who cannot afford to pay for it.
The Cancer Council team will ask several financial questions to determine whether you are eligible for assistance. If you don’t qualify for free assistance, we can put you in touch with a professional who can assist on a paid basis.
Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out if the Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service is available in your area. You can also speak to the social worker at your treatment centre and they can refer you to the program.
Cancer Council also produces fact sheets on common legal, financial and workplace issues, such as: Help with bills, Dealing with debts and Superannuation and cancer (download PDFs below).
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
- Cancer and Your Finances Download PDF411kB
- Emotions and Cancer Download PDF506kB
- Cancer, Work & You Download PDF397kB
- Dealing with debts Download PDF45kB
- Superannuation and cancer Download PDF68kB
- Cancer and Your Finances ebook Download ePUB380kB
- Emotions and Cancer ebook Download ePUB569kB
- Cancer, Work & You ebook Download ePUB562kB
Keith Manchester, Senior Legal Counsel, Financial Services Legal, AMP, NSW; Alka Bisen, Financial Counsellor and Project Coordinator – Financial Assistance Services, Cancer Council NSW; Patricia Dunn, Consumer; Emily Gibson, Social Worker, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Michelle Ruchin, Social Worker, Cancer Council SA; Robert Simon, Technical Services Manager, Tapln and Technical Strategy, AMP Advice, NSW; Krystyna Wisniewski, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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