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Cancer and the Financial Burden


With 145,000 new cancer cases diagnosed in 2019,(1) there is a high chance that you could be affected by cancer in some way, whether diagnosed with a form of cancer or knowing someone who has cancer. With significant improvements in early detection and treatment, experts estimate close 70% of people diagnosed with cancer in Australia will live more than five years beyond their diagnosis.(2)

Being diagnosed with cancer can be a daunting time. Having the necessary information to be able to plan and cope during this time can help the future outlook. Understanding the various costs, both treatment and non-treatment, can help you explore the various options available including a sound financial plan.

The lucky country

We are lucky to live in Australia, with access to quality public and private hospitals. Our health care system is largely publicly funded, but unfortunately this doesn't cover everything. Out-of-pocket expenses such as those associated with diagnosis, treatment and survival can weigh heavily on individuals and families. So without insurance some of us will face a big financial burden.

So what is cancer? A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues.(3)


The simple truth is, cancer doesn’t discriminate - children, teens, young adults, adults, recovering cancer patients, the elderly - we are all in cancer's line of sight, you don't need to sign up or take a ticket.

Grim outlook? Possibly. However death rates have fallen by 24% compared to nearly 40 years ago.(4) Medical advancements, early detection and change in lifestyle have all contributed to a decline in death rates. But here's the kicker - with these advancements comes financial burden. Understanding the overall potential costs, and putting together a sound financial plan, which includes adequate life insurance, can play a role not just in treatment, but the mental and physical wellbeing of all involved.

Calculating the cost of cancer

Calculating the cost of cancer is not easy. There are many variables - doctors and specialist fees, travel and parking, accommodation, prescription and over the counter medication, loss of income, the type and stage of cancer, even where you live, all have an impact on finances.

The financial burden doesn't stop there as carers are also impacted. Their working hours are impacted with 51% of cancer carers who previously worked full-time, have had to take leave or reduced working hours. Furthermore, 72% of cancer carers had reported that they have had their finances negatively impacted.5 To further compound the financial impact of being a carer, they rarely have access to travel and accommodation schemes as many carers are 'informal' caregivers.

A survey conducted based on interviews held with patients and carers, revealed that the average amount lost per month by someone looking after a cancer patient is $370. When coupled with the potential loss of income from the cancer patient themselves, this then creates an even greater financial burden.(5)

A survey conducted by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CFH) found that of the 1,200 responses, more than a quarter of respondents treated for breast cancer incurred out of pockets costs of more than $10,000.(6) It is important to note that each case of cancer is different with differing variations and treatment plans, which can alter the overall cost.

The emotional and physical burden

It is important to also understand that the impacts are not just financial. They extend to the emotional and physical wellbeing of both the cancer patient and their carer(s).


For cancer patients, a change in lifestyle, fear of the unknown, and feeling out of control may all impact their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.(7) For the carer, the impact of being the emotional support for a cancer patient, taking on additional chores around the house can create a feeling of isolation and resentment towards the situation.(8)

Financial assistance

Providing cancer patients and their family/carers with adequate upfront information of the potential costs associated with cancer would go a long way in helping plan for the future and would be valuable when discussing treatment options. Being able to plan for the future may also lead to less emotional burden for all involved.

There is a common misconception that those with private health funds are covered for doctors, hospital costs, tests etc. However, this is not always the case, as health funds may cover part of the costs of specialists, hospitals and tests, but not all.

There are a few financial assistance options that patients can look into. For example, the Cancer Council and Leukaemia Foundation can assist with help. The issue is knowing what is available, and how clients can get access to this assistance.

Whilst costs can be high, there are a number of avenues of assistance. Having the knowledge beforehand can go a long way in mitigating many issues. For example, utilising the various assistance programs mentioned above is one step. Coupling this with government assistance, private health insurance if you prefer, as well as a life insurance policy, can all help bridge the financial burden.

Trauma Cover can give you the opportunity to create real options in a traumatic time. It can make a contribution towards financial survival by providing a benefit payment which may be used to address a financial shortfall.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Cancer in Australia 2019

2. Cancer Council Victoria Cancer Prevalence in 2040 1 Feb 2018

3. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cancer

4. https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/what-is-cancer/facts-and-figures.html

5. https://www.cancer.org.au/content/healthprofessional/CancerForum/issues/2017-July.pdf

6. https://chf.org.au/media-releases/out-pocket-pain-10000-issue-0

7.https://www.cancerinstitute.org.au/how-we-help/reports-and-publications/cancer-treatment-side-effects-a-guide-for-aborigi/the-effects-of-cancer-on-social-and-emotional-well

8. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/caring-for-someone-with-cancer

Stu Varidel and Your Choice Financial Planning Pty Ltd trading as Heart Financial Advisers are authorised representatives of Sentry Financial Services Pty Ltd AFSL 286786.

The information contained herein is of a general nature only and does not constitute personal advice. You should not act on any information without considering your personal needs, circumstances and objectives. We recommend you obtain professional financial advice specific to your circumstances. The views expressed here are not ours. While the information contained in this article may contain or be based on information obtained from sources believed to be reliable, it may not have been independently verified. Where information contained in this publication contains material provided directly by third parties it is given in good faith and has been derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. To the maximum extent permitted by law: no guarantee, representation or warranty is given that any information or advice in this publication is complete, accurate, up to date or fit for any purpose; and no party or associated entities as mentioned is in any way liable to you (including for negligence) in respect of any reliance upon such information. This article may also contain links to websites operated by third parties who are not related to us. These links are provided for convenience only and do not represent any endorsement or approval by us.

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