How to Get Breast Cancer Screening and Treatment on a Budget

by PJ Hamel Patient Expert

What do you do when you've lost your job, you have no health insurance, and you find a lump in your breast?

Or you have a job but have no insurance, and make too much money to qualify for Medicaid?

Or, name your own financial/health care nightmare here. Including "I had a great job, I lost it, and now I have no health insurance, no income, and no assets."

Bottom line, you're making tough choices every day about allocation of your limited resources. Do you pay rent and buy groceries; or put gas in the car (or pay the babysitter) so you can work; or get that aching tooth looked at: the challenges are endless when money is short.

Feeling a lump in your breast is the last thing you want to deal with.

And the first thing you should.

When you discover a change in your breast, it's tempting to ignore it. But a lump, swelling in your armpit, overall redness and pain, or any situation that appears suddenly and doesn't go away within a few weeks (or worsens steadily) should be seen by a doctor. Only a doctor, not your mom, your girlfriend, your partner, or this Web site can tell you what's happening in your breast. And whether it's serious, perhaps serious enough to kill you.

So what's a low-income/uninsured woman to do?

Put your tax dollars to work, that's what. Access government help, which does in fact exist for women in your situation facing possible breast cancer.

Your very first step is to visit or call your local hospital's social services department. Once you reach social services, explain your situation. And ask about the Federal Center for Disease Control's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), which "provides low-income, uninsured, and underserved women access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services."

The NBCCEDP provides the following breast-related services to underserved women between the ages of 40-64:

  • Clinical breast examinations;

  • Mammograms;

  • Diagnostic testing if results are abnormal;

  • Referrals to treatment.

In addition, if you're diagnosed with breast cancer you can get financial help for treatment via the government's Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act, which allows women who ordinarily wouldn't qualify for Medicaid access to those funds for breast cancer treatment.

But here's a critical caveat: in order to qualify for this special Medicaid, you have to have been diagnosed through the NBCCEDP, described above. So you don't want to make any wrong moves around who you see about that lump, or when you see them.

Thus that important first contact with your hospital's social workers. Or, if you're not sure what hospital to contact, access the NBCCEDP in your state via the CDC's local program locator.

And what if you discover that you don't meet the income guidelines for the NBCCEDP? Your first step should still be to visit or call your local hospital's social services department. Once you reach social services, explain your situation; hopefully the social worker there can point you in the right direction. Usually hospitals have financial resources for women in your situation. If you need a mammogram, there are often non-profit-funded programs that fund free (or low-cost) mammograms.

But what if you get that free mammogram, and find you need treatment, but you don't have health insurance, and you don't qualify for Medicaid under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act? And your hospital social workers aren't able to offer you much help?

Then your next step is the American Cancer Society, the nationwide, community-based health organization whose mission covers all aspects of cancer, including prevention, care, research, education, advocacy, and service. Go to and type your zip code into the box at the upper right to find the ACS office nearest you.

Here's a little-known fact: Hospitals that receive construction funds theough the Department of Health and Human Services' Hill-Burton program are required by law to provide a variety of free and/or reduced-cost services to prospective patients who can't afford to pay for hospitalization. There are 203 such hospitals scattered throughout 44 states. Take a look at the list of hospitals, and read about the program at the Health Resources and Services Administation Web site.

Finally, here are four other organizations you may find useful:

The HealthWell Foundation is a non-profit organization that addresses "the needs of individuals who cannot afford their insurance copayments, premiums, coinsurance, or other out-of-pocket health care costs."

Good Days provides financial assistance around medications for breast cancer patients.

CancerCare, Inc. offers a limited amount of direct financial assistance but, more important, provides links to an array of cancer resources, both national and local.

CFAC, the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition, helps cancer patients manage their financial challenges. Interestingly, you can specify what kind of cancer you have (e.g., breast cancer); as well as what type of help you need (drugs, transportation, medical treatment, housing, etc.)

If you're a financially challenged women worried about breast cancer, let your fingers do the walking through these Web sites.

PJ Hamel
Meet Our Writer
PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via