Access to Quality Lung Cancer Care

When you have lung cancer, having access to high-quality health care is vitally important. Access to care is defined as “the timely use of personal health services to achieve the best health outcomes.”

Health insurance helps people access the lung cancer care they need from primary care physicians and cancer care specialists, but it isn’t the only factor that contributes to access. Available transportation and local healthcare resources also contribute to a person’s ability to access care.

Not everyone has health insurance or local healthcare resources, and some people find it difficult to navigate the healthcare system on their own when facing a lung cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, there are programs in America that help ensure everyone has access to affordable, quality cancer care.

This article will discuss what access to care really means, what barriers to accessing care exist, and resources that people with lung cancer can use to get proper medical care.

Female nurse providing emotional support to a senior patient in the hospital

FG Trade / Getty Images

The Importance of Access to Cancer Care

As a lung cancer patient, access to affordable care ensures you get the treatment you need to improve your prognosis (likely outcome). Research shows that improvements in access to care related to cancer prevention, screening, treatment, and follow-ups can help improve treatment outcomes and increase a person’s overall quality of life.

There are four components of access to care, including:

  • Coverage: Health insurance helps people gain entry into the healthcare system to get the required lung cancer testing, diagnosis, and treatments.
  • Services: People who have a primary healthcare provider receive more preventive services and recommended screenings than those who don’t. Access to services leads to improved health outcomes and lower costs of care.
  • Timeliness: The ability to access health care quickly after a need is recognized can help improve treatment outcomes and reduce mortality (risk of dying).
  • Workforce: A capable, qualified, and culturally competent healthcare workforce in an accessible location is vital to accessing healthcare services.

Barriers to Lung Cancer Care

Many people face barriers that limit or prevent their ability to get the lung cancer care services they need. Individuals who do not have appropriate access to care are less likely to receive preventive care and regular screenings, and are more likely to have poor health outcomes.

There are a number of barriers that people face when seeking lung cancer care, including:

  • Language and communication: Non-English speaking individuals and those who struggle to understand medical jargon may delay or put off seeking care. 
  • Distance to treatment: A lack of regional services, significant travel time to treatment centers, and transportation issues prevent some people from accessing care, particularly those who live in rural areas.
  • Financial burden: Many lung cancer patients face significant costs for cancer care and treatments, even with health insurance. Cancer patients in the United States spend an estimated $21 billion a year on cancer care. The exorbitant costs prevent some people from getting the care they need.
  • Poor care coordination: Lack of care coordination between healthcare providers (e.g., primary care physician and oncologist) may delay timely diagnosis and treatment.
  • Lack of effective screening methods: Understaffed hospitals and a lack of accessible screening tests reduce early lung cancer diagnosis and treatment.
  • Treatment-related nihilism: Some individuals delay or put off lung cancer treatment because they believe that medical treatments for the illness will not work.
  • Health-related stigma: The stigma of smoking and the link between lung cancer and tobacco use prevent some people from seeking cancer treatment and support.
  • Vulnerable populations: Research shows that racial and ethnic groups, including people who are Hispanic, Asian, Black, and Indigenous/Native, have less access to care than White people.

Financial Worries Impact Care Access

Nearly 70% of Americans say cost is the main barrier to accessing cancer care. A staggering 16% of cancer patients skip doctor appointments to cut back on costs, 9% skip doses of their medications, and 6% refuse treatment due to financial concerns.

Programs and Financial Support for Lung Cancer Care

Many resources exist for people with lung cancer. These resources provide lung cancer support, including financial assistance, finding suitable treatment options, emotional support, and transportation assistance. An Internet search for “lung cancer support” turns up many options, but the following resources may be a good place to start:

  • The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition has a database that allows you to search by resource type to find financial support for medications, home care, insurance co-pays, and more.
  • Transportation assistance is available in many communities to help you get to your doctor appointments and cancer treatment center/hospital. Contact the United Way by calling 211 or visiting the United Way website to find programs in your area.
  • The American Cancer Society has a searchable database to help you find local resources and assistance near you.

Your lung cancer healthcare team can connect you to resources that provide information and assistance for a variety of lung cancer-related topics. Talk with your healthcare provider, nurse, or oncology social worker to get the support you need.


Access to high-quality, affordable health care is essential when facing a lung cancer diagnosis. Studies show that timely and accessible lung cancer care can help achieve the best possible treatment outcomes and improve your quality of life.

Many people face barriers to accessible lung cancer care, including lack of health insurance, financial concerns, limited healthcare resources, and lack of transportation.

Resources are available to address these barriers to care and provide information as well as financial and emotional support to those who need it.

A Word From Verywell

One of the most important things you can do when living with lung cancer is to become your own advocate. Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need to fight lung cancer. Remember that you do not have to go through this alone. Many lung cancer organizations, hospitals, and cancer treatment centers provide support as you navigate the healthcare system and go through lung cancer treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is lung cancer screening free?

    Lung cancer screening is generally not free unless you qualify for free or low-cost testing. Most health insurance plans, including Medicare, cover the costs of lung cancer screening. Contact your insurance provider to find out what lung cancer screening tests are covered by your plan.

  • Is lung cancer treatment covered by health insurance?

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all health insurance plans to cover essential health benefits, including cancer screening, treatment, and follow-up care. Even with health insurance, you may have out-of-pocket costs related to lung cancer treatment, such as your monthly insurance premium, meeting your deductible, coinsurance, and co-pays.

  • How can I afford lung cancer treatment if I am uninsured?

    Financial assistance programs and government-sponsored health insurance plans (e.g., Medicare) are available to those who can demonstrate financial need. In some states, Medicaid covers lung cancer screening for eligible participants. Talk to your healthcare team or contact a local nonprofit cancer organization and ask for referrals or suggestions on getting the financial support you need to help pay for lung cancer treatment.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Elements of access to health care: timeliness.

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  11. CancerCare. Understanding the Affordable Care Act.