Managing Finances When You Have Breast Cancer

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When facing the physical and emotional impact of cancer, it can seem unfair that you also have to worry about your finances. But in an equation in which treatment is costly and expenses go up while your ability to work goes down, it's an important aspect of your care that you must plan for as best as possible. This can involve researching costs, speaking with your insurance company, finding assistance programs, and more.

Early on, talk to your doctor about your expected course of treatment. While this may change somewhat, this conversation will give you a place to start.

The following tips can help you along the way.

Professional Assistance

You in no way need to navigate this on your own. Step one should be finding someone who's trained to help you, who already knows the terminology you'll encounter, the resources available, and the ins and outs of the medical and insurance systems.

Financial Counselors

Many hospitals have financial counselors or other people on staff who can help you get an estimate of expenses and figure out the details of your insurance. They can also work with you on payment plans, which can give you a clear goal to meet.

If you're unable to meet the payments, they may be able to get some costs waived. Note that this is usually something you have to ask for, not information they'll volunteer. Be sure you ask.

They can also help you look into what resources may be available, regardless of income, from local, state, or federal government programs.

Oncology Social Workers

You may also want to reach out to an oncology social worker. These are people trained in cancer care centers who specialize in helping you deal with all aspects of cancer, including the financial part.

Most cancer centers have social workers on staff. If yours doesn't, you can get free help from CancerCare.

Tracking Expenses

Begin keeping track of your expenses. The sooner after diagnosis you start, the better. Many people find it helpful to get a notebook or app that's devoted only to tracking your cancer care costs. You might wish to designate a folder for holding important receipts.

This need not take a lot of time. What you do dedicate to this, however, may prove its value several times over later on when you are looking for information on things like dates of care, out-of-pocket fees, etc.

Tax Planning

One reason to begin keeping track of costs right away is that some expenses related to cancer are tax-deductible. If you're eligible to itemize your deductions, you may be able to deduct the medical expenses that aren't covered by insurance. The cost of travel to and from appointments can be deducted at 17 cents per mile, which is the 2020 standard mileage rate for medical purposes.

Medical deductions need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income to qualify, but many people are surprised how quickly this threshold is reached.

Health Insurance Concerns

Taking a look at your medical insurance coverage is one of the most important parts of preparing financially when you have metastatic cancer. Here's what you need to do:

  • Review your policy: Most people have a general idea of their medical insurance coverage, but this is a good time to review your policy more closely. This will give you an idea about costs that are covered, copays, deductibles, lifetime maximums, and whether you're underinsured.
  • Understand the difference between in-network and out-of-network providers: Many insurance policies have different tiers of coverage depending on whether a clinic or hospital is in their network or not. While a few out-of-network clinic visits may not add up to be that much, the cost difference for an out-of-network hospitalization can be significant.
  • Learn about the prior authorization process: If you find that a treatment you need is only available out-of-network, call your insurance company. If you can show them that a treatment that is only available at a higher-tier cancer center is superior or has fewer side effects than other options, your carrier may well cover your costs at the in-network rate.
  • Review your bills: Review your bills from visits and hospitalizations as they come in. Errors are very common and are easier to rectify if you discover them early on.
  • Review your coverage for home care and hospice care: Even if you’re feeling well and hoping you won’t need these options, it's good to know about these things long before you need them. Most plans cover these needs, but the particulars can vary significantly.


Now that you know what your insurance will and won't cover, review the state of your finances. This doesn’t have to be an intricate spreadsheet detailing all assets and all debts, but rather a brief sketch of income and expenses.

If like a lot of people, you don't have much left after covering your bills, you may need to look for financial assistance.

Even if you have a large financial cushion, costs may get large enough to devour it. Looking into assistance early on can keep you from having financial regrets down the line.

Disability Insurance

Loss of income is one of the greatest concerns for those facing breast cancer, especially metastatic. If you have recently been diagnosed, it may feel like it is too early to consider disability insurance. It's not. This is another issue better dealt with before it's needed. You may have disability insurance through your work or through a private policy, or you may need to consider social security disability.

Since the process of applying for social security disability is lengthy, the best time to apply is as soon as you need it. In order to qualify, you will need a physician to sign a form saying that you are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or that's terminal. Keep in mind that if you continue to do well and decide later that you're able to work, you can always discontinue disability.

You may be confused with the difference between social security disability (SSDI) and supplemental security income (SSI). The difference is that SSDI is provided for those who have accumulated a specific number of work hours, while SSI is available to those who are low-income or have not worked outside the home enough to earn the work credits needed to qualify.

Financial Support

Several organizations provide assistance for people coping with breast cancer. Some offer help with rent or transportation. Others offer financial assistance for childcare. Still others offer college scholarships for children of those with the disease. The Patient Advocate Foundation has a National Financial Resource Directory to help those that are uninsured and underinsured. The Susan G. Komen Foundation also maintains a directory of services.

Prescription drug assistance programs may offer you the chance to receive your treatments or medications at a discount. There are even free flight programs for cancer patients in some regions.

You may also need to look into other ways of raising money to pay your medical bills. For example:

  • Could you take out a loan on your life insurance policy?
  • Could you take out another mortgage on your home or get a home equity line of credit? For those over the age of 65, could you take out a reverse mortgage?
  • Do you have any friends or family members who would be willing to loan you money?
  • Can you tap into your retirement income? You may need to take a loss, but this may end up saving you money in the long run.
  • Do you have any valuables you would be willing to sell?
  • Do you have any friends who would be willing to plan a fundraiser in your community or online?

A Word From Verywell

The main thing to remember when it comes to financial concerns is this: You are not alone. Keep looking for the resources you need to help you with your treatment expenses and enlist whoever you can to help you out. You deserve the best treatment available.

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Article 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.
  1. CancerCare. Counseling.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. Standard mileage rates. Updated January 17, 2020.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. Topic No. 502 medical and dental expenses. Updated May 27, 2020.

  4. American Cancer Society. Understanding health insurance.

  5. Social Security Administration. Disability benefits.

  6. Social Security Administration. Overview of our disability programs.

  7. Patient Advocate Foundation. National financial resource directory.

  8. Susan G. Komen. Financial assistance and insurance.

  9. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Free flight resources.