The Hidden Costs of Cancer Treatment

Managing a cancer diagnosis and its treatments can be all-consuming. The patient’s focus needs to be on managing stress, eating healthfully, getting proper rest and maintaining a positive outlook. All too often, the confusion and stress from dealing with health care coverage, scheduling medical appointments, enduring treatments, working to maintain family, and in many cases, work demands can be very difficult and distracting for the cancer patient.

One of the unforeseen, and many times, stressful challenges head and neck cancer patients tell us are the multitude of “hidden” costs – even if the patient has a comprehensive health plan.

Some costs will be presented upfront when the patient’s treatment plan is outlined with the specified insurance coverage. For example, the cost of chemotherapy or a particular medication may be fully covered by insurance. However, not all insurance policies cover the multitude of procedures or require the patient to meet a deductible and/or do not pay for all the necessary costs during the cancer journey.

To assist in navigating and preparing the cancer patient and his/her caregiver(s) in what to anticipate, I have outlined some of the hidden costs of head and neck cancer treatment.

Transportation and Travel

These are the costs of daily living that increase due to a long-term illness and its treatment. For example, expenses for gasoline and possible parking fees may increase, especially if the patient needs to travel additional miles to a treatment facility multiple times a week. With the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, we offer a limited supply of $50 Gas Cards to help with travel expense that is funded by three gracious private donors. To learn more, check out the Gas Card Program page.

Expenses for tolls, taxis, bus or train fares, or airplane fares to medical appointments or treatment center may be required. Depending on where a patient decides to receive treatment, he/she may also need to pay for a hotel or other lodging.

Childcare Costs

Cancer treatments can be very demanding on one’s regular schedule and often exhaust the cancer patient both emotionally and physically. A parent, who is facing cancer treatment, may need to schedule childcare for the days he/she undergoes chemotherapy treatment.

Loss of Income

At the same time, due to the physical demands of treatments, doctor appointments, a cancer patient may need to scale back on work demands, which depending upon the employer’s sick/leave policy, could result in reduced income.

Doctor Appointment Co-Pays

The patient’s insurance provider may require a co-payment fee, or co-pay, for each doctor’s visit and treatment. The amount of the co-pay is determined by the insurance company, not the doctor or doctor’s office. The cancer patients may be responsible for a co-pay for each laboratory test, such as a blood or urine test, administered as part of your appointment. These co-pays for appointments, tests and other medical services can add up quickly. Budgeting and anticipating the costs of co-pays will be beneficial.

Cancer Treatments

This includes payments for the medical care a patient receives during his/her cancer treatment, such as each radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy session. If the cancer patient participates in a clinical trial, there may be other cost-related factors to consider. Because cancer treatments can take anywhere from a few days to a few months or even years, a patient may need to map out these costs, especially if the treatment plan is more long-term, i.e., six months to a year. Depending on the patient’s insurance coverage, certain treatments may or may not be covered or may have a monetary limit on the insurance policy.

Be sure to work with your doctor, nurse, or social worker to assist with this.


Payments for specific prescriptions for the cancer patient, such as a drug to help manage side effects, may not be fully and/or partially covered under the patient’s insurance plan. It will be beneficial to the cancer patient to understand this early on in the treatment process and work with his/her oncologist on prescription coverage.

Caregiving, at Home Care, and Long-Term Care

Some head and neck cancer patients require extra care. Examples include: hiring someone to fix meals or drive the patient to medical appointments. In some cases, there may be costs for extended nursing care at a specialized facility or the assistance of a home health aide.

Employment, Legal, and Financial Issues

Professional guidance may be needed to assist a cancer patient in employment, legal, or financial issues related to a cancer diagnosis. It may involve the following:

  • Coping with a loss of wages by the patient or caregiver
  • Learning about employment rights under the law
  • Figuring out medical expenses to prepare income taxes
  • Writing a will

1-866-792-HNCA (4622)

HNCA provides me with the information and support I need. It also provides me with a medium to serve as a role model to others diagnosed with head and neck cancer.”Jason Mendelsohn
Stage-4 HPV-related oral cancer survivor

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