Cancer and its treatment can affect many aspects of a person’s life. Depending on your situation, you may need to find ways to deal with reduced income and extra costs, and you may have to change your financial plans and goals. At a time when you need to focus on your treatment and recovery, these costs can be a source of stress and worry.
You can call our trusted and compassionate cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support. You may also be able to access our Financial Counselling Program to help manage the cost of cancer.
The cost of cancer
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, and whether you have treatment as a public or private patient.
Out-of-pocket costs for cancer patients can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $10,000. These may include:
- general practitioner (GP) and specialist gap payments
- scans or tests outside the public health system
- day surgery, hospital accommodation or operating theatre fees
- over-the-counter and prescription medicines and dressings
- medical appliances and devices such as breast prostheses or compression garments
- visits to allied health professionals and complementary therapists
- travel, parking and accommodation
- childcare and home help.
Frequently asked questions
These are 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 us on 13 11 20 for support.
How can I avoid unexpected costs?
You have a right to know how much you will have to pay for treatment. Your doctors and other health care providers must talk to you about likely out-of-pocket costs before treatment starts. This is called informed financial consent. It might seem like a lot of effort to get cost estimates before you start treatment, but it gives you the chance to discuss ways to reduce the costs or get financial support.
Before you decide whether to have treatment as a private or public patient, ask the doctor, hospital or service provider how much you will have to pay.
What is a gap payment?
A gap payment is the difference between what a doctor charges you and how much Medicare or your health fund will give you back. If you have private health insurance, contact your health fund to check that your treatment in hospital is covered and to ask about your gap cover.
Gap cover is the arrangement some health funds make with individual doctors about gap payments. It can insure you against some of the difference between what a specialist charges you and what Medicare will give you back. Choosing to use the doctors and hospitals that take part in your health insurer’s medical gap scheme can help reduce out-of-pocket costs.
Out-of-pocket costs are those additional costs that are not covered by Medicare or your health fund. You will have to pay these costs yourself.
How will my income be affected?
The way that cancer affects your income will depend on your situation. You may work on a casual, part-time or full-time basis, be self-employed, be looking for work, or work from home. Or you may be retired and living on a pension, income from investments or your superannuation payments.
- Time off work – cancer may mean a loss of income if you or your carer must take time off work. If you are working, ask your doctor how much time off you are likely to need. Many people who want to keep working during treatment can do so in some capacity.
- Leave – check with your employer about leave entitlements and flexible working arrangements. 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. If you are self-employed, you may need to find some other sources of income.
- Insurance – if you have disability or income protection insurance, you may be able to receive a portion of your income while you are unable to work. You might have taken out a policy yourself, or it could have been included with your superannuation or provided by your employer.
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 see you as a public patient.
Your doctor can refer you to a social worker or welfare officer for more information. In some cases, if you have no other way to pay for treatment, you may be able to access your superannuation early.
- Make a budget – an important step in managing your finances is to fully assess your situation. A budget helps you understand how much money you have, spend and need to cover your expenses.
- Take action – 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 organisations you owe money to (your creditors) know about your diagnosis and money situation. Often they will try to help you.
- Get help – sorting out financial issues can strain your wellbeing and relationships. Talking to a trusted family member or a professional adviser about your finances may help you clarify your situation and find solutions. Call 13 11 20 to connect with our financial and legal services.
How do I manage financial stress?
Money worries are the leading cause of stress for Australians. It is very common for people to struggle with the financial impact of cancer. It’s also common for people to feel too embarrassed to ask for help. This may be the first time you have ever needed financial help or had difficulty balancing your budget and you don’t know where to start. A good first step is to talk to a member of your treatment team or call us on 13 11 20 to find out about services that can help.
Financial stress can add 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. Depression 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.
- check whether you can talk to a psychologist or social worker at your cancer care centre.
- call 13 11 20 to find out more about our nurse counselling program.
- find information and support about coping with depression and anxiety from Beyond Blue. For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- manage your overall stress by doing regular physical activity, eating healthy food, and listening to a meditation or relaxation recording.
Which professionals can help?
When cancer affects your finances, seeing a qualified professional for advice can help. Whether you should see a financial counsellor or financial adviser will depend on your circumstances.
- Financial counsellors – provide practical suggestions to help people manage their personal budget and finances, especially those on low incomes. They can negotiate and advocate for people at financial risk, or 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 advisers (may also call themselves a financial planner) – provide advice to help people manage their assets and financial affairs to achieve their personal and financial goals. Financial advisers must have an Australian financial services licence or work for businesses with an Australian financial services licence. They usually charge fees and may receive commissions for selling financial products. Independent financial advisers do not receive any commissions and are not linked with a provider of financial products.
If you are unable to look after your own financial affairs, you can legally give someone you trust the power to make financial or legal decisions for you. This is known as an enduring power of attorney or appointment of a substitute decision maker. Talk to a lawyer to get specific advice about your situation or call 13 11 20 to see if our legal services can help.
What questions should I ask?
Asking your health care providers questions will help you make an informed financial choice. You may want to include some of these questions in your own list:
- How much will I have to pay for consultations?
- How much will I have to pay for imaging scans or other tests?
- Can you give me a written estimate of treatment costs?
- Are there other effective treatments that cost less?
- Who else will care for me and how can I find out what their fees will be?
- Are there any out-of-pocket costs not covered by Medicare or my private health cover?
- Will there be any up-front payments?
- Do you bulk-bill?
- Can I be treated as a public patient?
- Am I covered for this surgery?
- Do I have to pay an excess or co-payment?
- Do you have a gap scheme?
- Is my hospital or doctor covered by your gap scheme?
Financial impacts of treatment
- Are the costs negotiable? Can the cost be reduced if I can’t afford it?
- When will I have to pay? Do you offer flexible repayment plans? Do you charge interest?
- Will I be able to work while having treatment?
- What Centrelink benefits am I able to claim?
- Who can I talk to about my financial situation and available financial support?
- Am I eligible for patient travel assistance? How do I apply?
Accessing our financial and legal services
It is estimated that 60% of people affected by cancer face distress from legal and financial challenges, in addition to their health concerns. Our referral services 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 in the community 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
- navigating disruption to your small business.
Call us on 13 11 20 to find out more. You can also speak to the social worker at your treatment centre who can refer you to the program.
Preparing a budget
Once you have prepared your budget, review it regularly, as your income and expenses may change. If you need help preparing a budget, talk to a financial counsellor.
Step 1: Track your spending
Keeping track of how much you spend for a couple of weeks will help you learn where your money goes. You can:
- jot down expenses in a notebook or spreadsheet
- look over bank statements, regular bills and receipts
- use an online tool such as Money Smart's budget planner
- download an app to your mobile phone – visit the App Store or Google Play to see what is available
- check if your bank has a budget planner included in their app or online.
Step 2: Choose a time frame
Decide if your budget time frame will be weekly, fortnightly, monthly or yearly.
It can be helpful to choose the time frame that matches your pay period. If there are expenses you only pay once a year:
- divide by 52 to work out the weekly cost
- divide by 26 to work out the fortnightly cost
- divide by 12 to work out the monthly cost.
Step 3: Write down your income
Your income is all the money you have coming in. Examples include:
- take-home (after tax) pay and bonuses
- income from investments, shares or property
- government benefits, such as Centrelink payments
- child support payments
- repayments from anyone who owes you money (debtors)
- any other income.
Step 4: Write down your expenses
Your expenses are all the things you spend money on. Examples include:
- housing – rent or mortgage, council rates, strata fees
- food, groceries, alcohol
- loan repayments – car loan, personal loan, credit cards
- utilities – electricity, gas, water, phone, mobile, internet, pay TV, streaming services
- insurance – home and contents, car, private health, life
- health – medical, dental, optical
- transport – petrol, registration, repairs, fares, parking fees
- education – childcare, school fees, uniforms, textbooks, HECS–HELP repayments
- clothing and shoes
- personal care (e.g. haircuts)
- entertainment, holidays, gifts
- child support payments
- unpaid fines
- incidentals (pocket money)
- memberships (e.g. gym, clubs).
Step 5: Work out the difference
To work out the difference between your income and expenses:
- add up all your income (step 3)
- add up all your expenses (step 4)
- take away your expenses from your income.
If you spend more than you earn, that is, your expenses are greater than your income, see if there are ways you can increase your income or reduce your expenses.
Cancer and Your Finances
Download our Cancer and Your Finances booklet to learn more and find supportDownload now
Expert content reviewers:
Rania Tannous, Head of Legal, Corporate, Legal and Governance, AMP; Patricia Troll, Senior Legal Counsel, AMP Financial Services Legal, Legal and Governance, AMP; Lynette Brailey, Program Coordinator, Financial Assistance Service, Cancer Council NSW; Stephen Bray, Financial Planner, FM Financial, TAS; Angela Daly, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Services, The Adem Crosby Centre, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Sandra Hodge, Consumer; Sandi Johnson, Consumer; Antony Mitchell, Financial Counsellor, Financial Counselling Program, Cancer Council VIC; Lucy Pollerd, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Heather Richards, Consumer; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
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The information on this webpage was adapted from Cancer and Your Finances - A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends (2021 edition). This webpage was last updated in June 2022.