Unexpected Costs of Cancer

Cancer isn’t something that people plan for, especially financially. The most obvious cancer-related costs people have to deal with pertain directly to treatment and recovery. However, other unexpected costs can add up quickly for both patients and the friends and family around them. In this post, we’ve put together a list of some some ways that patients and their supporters can help keep down unexpected costs related to cancer.


People with long-term illnesses, especially rare illnesses like mesothelioma, naturally want to be treated by the best specialists available. Sometimes, that means traveling to another city, state or even country. Friends and family members can encounter expenses as they travel to be near their loved one. Examples of specific travel expenses can include fuel, vehicle maintenance and repair and even plane or train tickets.

Many of the techniques people use to keep down everyday travel costs can be used to help trim costs associated with cancer-related travel. Searching online and comparing providers can help you get the best ticket prices. If traveling by car, performing regular preventative maintenance as suggested by the manufacturer can help prevent costly repairs down the road. Also, some gas station and mini-market chains have loyalty or rewards programs that can help you save money and are not tied to credit cards.

In addition, there are a number non-profit organizations that can help defray the costs of people diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. For example, the National Patient Travel Center helps connect patients with charitable and deeply discounted travel.


Similar to travel, lodging expenses can become overwhelming. Even if the patient is staying in a hospital, supporters such as children, spouses, parents and close friends may want to board nearby to lend their assistance.

Personal and affinity networks can be crucial to helping you find ways to save money on lodging. Friends or family of friends may be willing to share their homes, or at least offer advice about the low-cost local places to rent a room. Local non-profit and religious organizations also frequently have resources available that may not be widely known.

In cases where paying for a room is necessary, it’s important to know that some hotels and long-term lodging facilities offer discounts to medical patients and family members. Specialized, non-profit search engines like Joe’s House can help you find accommodations with reduced pricing for medical travel. Also, many hotel chains have loyalty programs that let you earn free stays, which can help minimize or defray costs.


Whether traveling or staying at home, cancer treatment and recovery can lead to increased spending on food. Patients may not have the means or energy to make their own meals, and it can be easy to succumb to temptations to purchase prepared food for themselves and their dependents.

Some people may feel awkward or uncomfortable asking for help with things like food. However, prepared food from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, religious communities and other acquaintances can really help out when a cancer patient’s dollars are stretched thin. Online meal calendars such as Meal Train can help coordinate meal deliveries during such times of need.

If you need to purchase food from a restaurant, be sure to check for deals online. Many chains have clubs or loyalty programs that offer discounted, and sometimes free, meals. Local restaurants may have offers available on Groupon, Amazon Local or other social deal and discount websites. Also, giving someone diagnosed with cancer a gift card to his or her favorite restaurant can help both financially and psychologically.

Credit Card Costs

It can be tempting to use credit cards to push immediate payments down the road. However, in the long run such tactics likely will cost much more money due to interest and fees than making the payment up front.

The best way to escape credit costs is to resist the urge of to use credit altogether. Staying on top of finances, knowing rights related to medical billing and health insurance and seeking financial help are all techniques that can help patients and families stay out of debt. Instead of paying a medical bill with a credit card, it may be worth asking the hospital or doctor if the payment can be deferred, reduced or waived altogether due to financial hardship. For other ways to keep from racking up credit card balances, see our 13 Steps to Avoid Medical Debt.

For medical or related expenses that must be paid with a credit card, it is critical to look to look closely at the account terms before signing up. Avoid credit cards with annual fees, know all of the possible rates that balances may incur and stay away from cards that bump up interest rates to offer meager “rewards.”

Student Loans

Patients who are paying off student loans may be eligible for a forbearance due to illness. Forbearance eligibility may differ based on the type of loan, the specifics of the loan agreement and the current loan provider.

Generally speaking, patients may not benefit from consolidating student loans during times of financial hardship, since consolidation changes the terms of the loan. Also, consolidating student loans under a spouse’s name may not be advisable, as the spouse would be responsible for paying the patient’s loan in the event of non-recovery. For advice about your specific situation, seek out a qualified financial adviser to help you navigate your options.

Monthly Services

Recurring payments are one of the ways that many people spend money they don’t really have. When in the hospital or recovering, patients may be able to stop, suspend, scale back or switch services that they and their families aren’t using.

Every person’s situation is different, but some examples include cable, telephone and Internet bills — perhaps they could be bundled, reduced or cut out altogether. Other examples include online streaming services like Netflix or Hulu+, magazine or newspaper subscriptions and automated delivery services. Patients who are driving their car less can contact their insurance company to see if a lower mileage reading will reduce the monthly premium, or shop for a new car insurance provider.

A good way to discover services that could be cut or reduced is to review monthly bank and credit card statements. Such reviews may also turn up incorrect charges that should be investigated and disputed.

There is no way to completely avoid unexpected costs related to long-term illnesses like cancer. However, being aware of the potential costs and ways to mitigate them can help both patients and their supporters focus on the treatment and recovery, rather than getting bogged down in financial details.