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Making decisions about your care

Other rights issues

Other issues you may face during or after cancer treatment include:

  • purchasing and claiming on insurance policies
  • access to superannuation, reimbursements, benefits and pensions
  • dealing with debts
  • your rights in the workplace
  • concerns you may have about advanced cancer and end of life.

This section provides an introduction to these topics. For more information, including what to do if insurance claims are rejected, delayed or reduced, you can refer to our legal and financial assistance section for fact sheets about workplace, legal, financial and insurance issues. For free copies, call 13 11 20 or talk to your hospital social worker. You may also want to consider obtaining independent legal and financial advice about any issues covered in this section.


You may have taken out personal insurance policies, such as income and mortgage protection, or life or trauma insurance, before you were diagnosed with cancer. Usually this will mean you do not need to inform the insurer about your cancer diagnosis until you renew your policy or change your level of cover. However, it is a good idea to check your insurance policy to see what it says about disclosing health issues. Insurance companies are allowed to refuse cover, but only on reasonable grounds. This does not include health insurance – it is unlawful to be denied health insurance.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance can be a major concern for people with cancer or who have had cancer. Insurance companies may view you as more of a risk. They may believe that you’re more likely to get sick and require treatment while you’re travelling, need to return home for treatment, or cancel your trip due to illness.

Travel insurance policies can cover the basics, such as lost luggage and cancelled flights, as well as overseas medical expenses and death or disability cover. If you have to disclose any pre-existing health conditions, be honest – a claim may be denied if you withhold information.

Applying for travel insurance
  • Apply for a policy well before your departure date.
  • Shop around – the terms and conditions may vary.
  • Ask your specialist or GP to write a detailed letter outlining your condition.
  • If you are travelling overseas, check whether there is a reciprocal health care agreement between Australia and the country you are visiting so you can access medical treatment. Visit the Department of Human Services website for more information.
  • Some credit cards offer free travel insurance if you use the card to pay for some or all of the trip. Read the fine print.
  • If you are denied travel insurance, ask the insurer to provide reasons in writing.


If cancer causes financial issues, you may consider accessing your superannuation or claiming on insurance policies that might be attached to your superannuation account.

For more information download or order a free copy of our superannuation factsheet.

Reimbursements, benefits and pensions

The Department of Human Services offers a range of payments to people with cancer via Centrelink. These include:

  • Sickness Allowance – for people aged 22 or older who can’t work or study due to illness
  • Mobility Allowance – for people who can’t use public transport without substantial assistance due to illness and who need to travel for work or study
  • Disability Support Pension – for people with a medical condition that means they are unable to work.

Medicare has reimbursement programs for people who require certain medical supplies, such as prostheses or stoma accessories.

For more information about reimbursements, benefits and pensions, see the Department of Human Services website or visit a Centrelink or Medicare office.

Dealing with debts

If you are struggling with debts, such as your mortgage or credit card bills, talk to your lenders about your financial situation and see what options are available. These may include:

  • extending your loan term
  • reducing or pausing repayments
  • changing to interest-only repayments
  • renegotiating your interest rate.

If you’re not satisfied with the response you receive from your lender, you can complain via a free external dispute resolution scheme, such as those provided by the Financial Ombudsman Service Australia or the Credit and Investments Ombudsman. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s MoneySmart website has information about making complaints.

A financial counsellor can help you to budget and work out a plan to manage your debts. Visit Financial Counselling Australia to find a counsellor in your area.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 and ask for a free dealing with debts fact sheet.

If you’re having trouble paying your utility bills, such as electricity, gas, water, phone or internet, talk to your provider. They can help you find a way to avoid disconnection and penalty fees.

Workplace issues

If you are employed or hope to return to work after treatment, you might wonder how cancer will affect your job. You may be concerned about your leave entitlements, discrimination at work, unfair dismissal or your right to flexible working hours.

Some of the issues described here differ between states and territories, and they may depend on the industry you work in. For more specific information, call 13 11 20 or see our information and fact sheets about employment issues, including compensation for work-related cancer.

Taking leave

All full-time employees except casuals are entitled to 10 days of paid personal leave each year, including sick leave. Part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro rata basis. If you need to take more time off, you may be able to take unpaid leave or make another arrangement with your employer.


Being discriminated against at work because you have cancer is against the law. Examples of discrimination include being prevented from taking leave that you are entitled to and being sacked for a reason related to your cancer diagnosis.

If you think you’re being discriminated against, you can lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission or the anti-discrimination, equal opportunity or human rights agency in your state or territory (see below).

Most complaints are resolved through mediation or conciliation, which is an informal type of resolution. If mediation doesn’t work, you may go to an administrative tribunal. Tribunals are less formal than courts, and you may not need legal representation. A tribunal has the power to make a legal judgment that must be followed.

If you have been dismissed from your job or experienced other disadvantage due to your cancer diagnosis, you may be able to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission.

Cancer Council’s Pro Bono Program offers free legal and financial assistance to eligible people. Call 13 11 20 to find out if you qualify.

Special arrangements

Your employer may need to make arrangements to help you manage your work responsibilities while you are having or recovering from treatment. They can only refuse to provide these arrangements if the changes would cause serious hardship to their business. Some examples of flexible arrangements are:

  • allowing you to work from home some or all days
  • changing your start, finish or break times
  • allowing you to vary your hours, work part-time or job share
  • varying the amount of unpaid or paid leave you can take and when you can take it.

State/territory Ombudsman or commission
Australian Capital Territory ACT Human Rights Commission
02 6205 2222
New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW
02 9268 5544 or 1800 670 812 (regional NSW only) 
Northern Territory Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission
1800 813 846 
Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland
1300 130 670 
South Australia Equal Opportunity Commission
(08) 8207 1977 or 1800 188 163 (country callers) 
Tasmania Equal Opportunity Tasmania
1300 305 062 
Victoria Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission
1300 292 153 
Western Australia Equal Opportunity Commission
(08) 9216 3900 or 1800 198 149 (country callers) 

Advanced cancer issues

If you have cancer that has spread or come back, you may live for many years. However, some people with advanced cancer want to outline their wishes for end-of-life care. Making plans may give you peace of mind and help you to make your wishes clear to your family, friends, carers and health care providers.

  • You have a right to make treatment decisions as long as you have capacity, including decisions about accessing palliative care services, and stopping or refusing treatment. You can also request that treatment continue as long as it could be of benefit.
  • You can appoint someone to make decisions for you and/or create an advance care plan. Each state and territory has different laws and types of documents.
  • You can make a will that details how you want your assets and belongings (your estate) distributed after you die.
  • You can indicate where you would prefer to die (e.g. at home, or in a hospice or hospital).

Not everyone needs information about advanced cancer issues, and it can be confronting to consider these topics. Cancer Council has free booklets about advanced cancer, palliative care and end-of-life issues, as well as state- and territory-specific fact sheets about getting your affairs in order, dealing with debts after death and appointing an executor. Call 13 11 20 to request information, or order these resources online.

Carmen’s story

"I’d been complaining to my doctor for about six months about a pain in my hip. At first, she told me there was nothing wrong with me because I had a lot of scans and tests and all the results came back negative.

"Eventually, I had a colonoscopy and the doctor found a polyp. I found out it was bowel cancer the day after my birthday.

"I’d been working in the finance industry for a while and I had a lot of responsibility. The company had been sold about two months earlier, so I was already concerned about my job.

"I went into work after the doctor told me I had cancer and talked to my boss, who said he’d do anything to stand by me. I was very lucky in that regard.

"I took sick leave to have surgery to remove part of my bowel. When I was well enough to have chemo, I worked part-time from home when I felt up to it. Overall, I worked this way for nine months during my treatment and recovery.

"Once chemo was finished, I went back to work full-time. By then, the office had moved from near my home to the city, which meant I had a longer distance to travel each day. I don’t know how I did it all, but I did.

"I didn’t have as much responsibility when I first went back, but I didn’t care at the time because I just wanted to recover from my illness. I was able to schedule my check-ups in the morning before going to work. At one point, I had to go back to hospital as I had a blocked bowel, but work was flexible and understanding.

"There have been lots of changes at work, but now I’m back in the same role I had before I had cancer, and everything’s going really well.

Tell your cancer story.

Key points

  • You may have insurance policies, such as income and mortgage protection, or life or trauma insurance, when you are diagnosed with cancer. Insurance companies (excluding health insurers) are allowed to refuse cover, but only on reasonable grounds.
  • Travel insurance can be a major concern for people with cancer or who have had cancer. It should be possible to get a basic plan to cover lost luggage, theft and cancelled flights. Some insurers don’t cover medical expenses for people who have had cancer. You can ask for the reasons for a refusal of cover in writing.
  • If cancer causes financial issues, you may consider accessing your superannuation or claiming on insurance policies that are attached to your superannuation account.
  • The Department of Human Services (Centrelink) offers benefits and pensions to people with cancer. Medicare also offers reimbursement schemes for some products and equipment, such as stoma accessories and prostheses.
  • If you have cancer and are struggling with debts, such as your home loan or credit cards, talk to your lenders about your situation.
  • A financial counsellor can help you to budget and work out a plan to manage your debts.
  • If you are working, you can talk to your employer about taking leave and changing your work arrangements during treatment and recovery.
  • People with advanced cancer may consider outlining their wishes for end-of-life care.

Expert content reviewers:

Therese Burke, General Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Toni Ashmore, Manager, Cancer Psychosocial Service, ACT Health, ACT; Art Beavis, Consumer; Marina Kastelan, Neuro-Oncology Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal North Shore and North Shore Private Hospitals, NSW; Dr Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria and Union for International Cancer Control, VIC; Sarah Penman, Legal and Financial Support Services Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sharnie Rolfe, Consumer; Helen Tayler, Social Worker/Counsellor, Cancer Counselling Service, Belconnen Community Health Centre, ACT. We would also like to thank the health professionals and consumers who worked on previous editions of this title, as well as the original writers: Louisa Fitz-Gerald, Jenny Mothoneos, Vivienne O’Callaghan, Marge Overs and Laura Wuellner.

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