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Managing the financial burden of a cancer diagnosis

Monday 2 August, 2021


Being diagnosed with cancer not only affects people physically and emotionally, it can also cause an immediate and devastating impact to an individual’s financial situation, which can have consequences for the whole family 

Treatment can decrease the capacity to undertake work, plus there are also significant, and often hidden, healthcare costs involved that may extend over several months and sometimes years. 

Last year in Victoria alone, more than one third of the 10,000 calls made to our 13 11 20 cancer information and support line related to practical concerns including financial and legal issues.  ​Additionally, a recent Consumer Health Forum of Australia survey found that patients pay approximately 15 per cent of the expenses of their care from their own pocket. 

The hardship arising from the burden of the costs of cancer is referred to as financial toxicity, and it is increasingly considered a side effect of cancer. It has far-reaching implications not only for people with cancer, but for those caring for their loved ones too.   


There are many costs involved in a cancer diagnosis, which can have a devastating impact. 


Addressing this experience is the aim of several new initiatives developed by Cancer Council Victoria in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It contributes to our ongoing advocacy which targets reducing the cost of cancer for all Victorians. 

One of these projects is the creation of a new guide to assist people with a serious illness or injury to manage their finances. Several community and academic experts collaborated on the guide, which was led by Commonwealth Bank, including Cancer Council Victoria, Scope Australia and Uniting. 

The Dealing with a diagnosis: Help with managing your finances through serious illness guide covers four key topics including managing your finances when you’re diagnosed with a serious health condition, planning ahead while you’re in good health, resources and assistance for carers, and organisations that offer support.  

The guide also provides readers with real life examples of the challenges Australians experiencing a serious illness or injury have faced.  

Head of Cancer Strategy at Cancer Council Victoria, Amanda Piper, said that getting sick with cancer or other serious illnesses is a costly exercise that affects people physically, emotionally and financially.  

“Getting the right support and information at the right time is extremely important, and for some, it can be life changing. Not only does it empower people who are particularly vulnerable to make informed decisions, it also contributes to reducing financial stress,” said Amanda. 

“We have been pleased to support the development of this important guide that fills a gap in the banking sector. We encourage anyone who is struggling with the day-to-day expenses of living with serious illness to not shoulder the burden alone and to reach out to supports available. 

Commonwealth Bank’s General Manager Community and Customer Vulnerability, Justin Tsuei, said it was important for customers to have access to helpful information and resources during periods of distress.  

“The reality is no one plans or chooses to become unwell,” said JustinDespite your best efforts, your health can become compromised to an extent where it significantly affects your wellbeing and finances 

“Having the right financial support and taking appropriate actions early can potentially help to minimise the financial impacts on you and those close to you.”

Complementing this initiative, Cancer Council Victoria has also recently designed and delivered a communication skills course to 43 banking professionals who work with customers experiencing financial vulnerability due to cancer and other serious illnesses. 

In consultation with Commonwealth Bank and Bankwest, the course was delivered by facilitators and actors skilled in providing interactive training catered to a range of experience levels.  

“We have a long history in providing communication skills training to health professionals about having difficult conversations with people affected by cancer,” continued Amanda. 

Through our relationship with Commonwealth Bank, it became apparent that addressing the fine line between communicating sensitively and compassionately while simultaneously ensuring practical needs are met, is a common challenge across many industries. 

“Participants in the course particularly appreciated the opportunity to practice managing complex and sensitive calls in a way that conveyed empathy while also ensuring they could undertake an effective assessment of hardship and explore relevant financial solutions. 

“We’re now offering this program to other customer service organisations in sectors outside healthcare as part of our range of cancer education and communications skills training programs.”  


More information

Find out more about our Financial Counselling Program and our Pro Bono Services to help you and your loved ones manage the financial burden of cancer. You can also access these services by calling 13 11 20 to speak with our compassionate and trusted cancer nurses.

Dealing with a diagnosis: Help with managing your finances through serious illness is available online or in a hard copy at your local Commonwealth Bank branch. There are also Easy English versions for people with limited English skills or a cognitive disability, which include getting support and help after diagnosis.

Download the guide now


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