Paying for Cancer Treatment

      The financial burden of cancer can be overwhelming. We consulted doctors, social workers, financial experts, and cancer survivors for their tips and guidance on paying for cancer treatment.

      Where to Look for Financial Help

      When it comes to paying for cancer, there are people specifically designated to help you navigate the process.

      Social workers and patient navigators often work at cancer centers or hospitals, or other organizations associated with these facilities. These employees can assist people with many aspects of the cancer journey, including navigating medical bills and other finances.

      "Patient navigators can function differently at different hospitals," Dr. Kathie-Ann Joseph, a surgical oncologist at NYU Langone Health's Perlmutter Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet.

      "We have a really wonderful program at [NYU] where we used lay navigators … that pretty much help newly diagnosed cancer patients through the continuum of care."

      These navigators can meet with patients right after the diagnosis and can also:

      • Attend appointments
      • Provide an assessment for next steps of care
      • Assist with housing, transportation or immigration issues
      • Help with financial issues
      • Provide direction on legal issues

      "They really will help them get through these barriers that we think could impact their care," Dr. Joseph added.

      "Because the goal is we want them to complete their care."

      Dr. Kathie-Ann Joseph explains how patient navigators can help patients.

      Can Cancer Get Me Fired?

      You can't be fired for having cancer, says Sarah Stapleton, a clinical social worker at Montefiore Medical Center.

      However, if treatment interferes with your ability to do your job, or come into work at all, you may run into some issues.

      Under both federal and state laws, employers are expected to make reasonable accommodations to assist employees with cancer. This may include things like extra paid time-off, shorter work hours during treatment, or offering remote work when possible.

      However, employers are not expected to provide accommodations that would cause "undue hardships" or "significant difficulty or expense," according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.

      In many cases, people who need to take significant time off from work for cancer treatment (or to care for someone in their family with cancer) are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

      Social worker Sarah Stapleton explains worker rights, noting you cannot be fired because you have cancer. 

      The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid time off with job protection, meaning you'd have the same job (or a similar job with similar pay) when you return.

      The FMLA also requires employers to offer the same health insurance coverage during leave.

      Depending on where you live in the U.S., state laws might provide even more benefits to people who need to take time off from work for cancer treatment.

      "It depends on the employer on how many months or days you would get,” Stapleton says. “You do not get paid during that time, but it makes sure you have job security."

      What If I Can’t Pay My Cancer Bills?

      Many people worry that they will not be able to cover the cost of cancer care, even with the help of insurance.

      You should know there are many organizations and programs in place that can help patients to cover bills as well as other costs associated with cancer treatment. Below, we’ve rounded up some resources you may consider.

      For Help With Treatment Bills

      • The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition can direct patients and their families to available resources (both national and regional) that may be able to help with the bills.
      • Many treatment centers offer extended payment plans and some may offer temporary payment delays.
      • CancerCare, which connects patients with oncology social workers, may be able to assist with co-pays, transportation, and other costs associated with care.
      • The HealthWell Foundation may be able to help uninsured patients pay for treatment.
      • The American Cancer Society may be able to link patients and their families up with local resources (they offer a 24/7 helpline).
      • The Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF) works with patients and their insurance companies to resolve issues and may provide direct financial support to some patients.
      • The Patient Access Network Foundation may be able to help with out-of-pocket costs associated with cancer treatment.

      For Help With Transportation and/or Housing

      • There are several programs that may be able to assist patients if they need to travel by plane to get treatment, including Air Care Alliance, the Corporate Angel Network, and PALS (Patient Airlift Services).
      • Patients with Medicaid may be entitled to help paying for transportation costs to and from treatment.
      • The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program can hook patients and their families up with volunteer drivers.
      • Mercy Medical Angels may be able to help patients and their families pay for transportation.
      • The Healthcare Hospitality Network can assist with housing if a patient must be treated far from home.
      • The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Program gives patients and their caregivers a free place to stay during treatment in dozens of cities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

      For Help With Food

      Dr. Mikkael Sekeres explains why it’s so important to discuss the cost of drugs with patients.

      Can I Enroll in a Clinical Trial for Free?

      Enrolling in a clinical trial may be a more cost-effective option for some patients struggling with paying for cancer, as many of the care costs are typically covered by the trial sponsor.

      A clinical trial is a study that helps doctors better understand cancer and test out new, potentially more effective ways to treat it. These trials can give patients a chance to try treatments before they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      Your doctor may have spoken with you about possibly enrolling in a trial if you have advanced disease or if there's a drug that's currently considered investigational that may work better than the standard treatment for you.

      Most of the time, when a person takes part in a clinical trial, the study's sponsor pays for the treatment and any additional care (like extra doctor visits) that may be required during the trial.

      Some sponsors even pay for travel to and from appointments or treatment centers.

      Patients should make sure they ask what exactly will be paid for before signing up to be part of a trial. The Affordable Care Act also mandates that health insurance companies pay for routine patient care costs while people are enrolled in clinical trials.

      This means that any care that would normally be covered for a cancer patient is still paid for throughout the trial, according to the American Cancer Society.

      Clinical Trials: Risks v. Benefits

      All new drugs have to go through clinical trials before the FDA approves them in the U.S. These trials are necessary to advance science and cancer treatment options.

      If your doctor has discussed potentially enrolling in a clinical trial with you, you can check out which you may be eligible for using SurvivorNet’s simple Clinical Trial Finder tool.

      Those considering a trial should also be aware of potential risks, such as:

      • The potential for side effects due to treatments that are still in the trial phase
      • Researchers may not yet be aware of some potential side effects
      • The treatment may not work for you, even if it has worked for others

      But joining a clinical trial comes with benefits as well.

      Patients are given access to treatments that could be life-saving, but haven’t made it all the way through the approval process and may have more access to healthcare professionals since they will be regularly monitored during the trial.

      Dr. Beth Karlan explains the benefits of participating in clinical trials.


      Introducing, the Journey Bar

      Use this bar to access information about the steps in your cancer journey.