The True Cost of Cancer: Beyond Hospital Treatment

Patient Expert

Surgery, endless doctor’s visits, chemotherapy infusions: the bill for medical cancer treatments can be enormous. And that’s not including all the peripheral ways your personal cost of living may increase, from special clothing to the exercise classes that help prevent a recurrence. Here are 10 hidden expenses to plan for as you make the cancer journey.

  1. New clothes

Shirts that button down the front may not be your favorite fashion statement, but they’re a necessity after breast surgery. Be sure you have several soft, comfortable button shirts. But don’t spend too much on them; they may become throwaways if your bandages leak.

  1. Wig and wig care

Losing your hair? You might choose to wear a wig. Many insurance companies will cover the cost of the wig (which can range from under $100 for synthetic wigs to several thousand dollars for natural wigs). But did you know your wig needs to be cared for, just as you would your own hair? Most manufacturers recommend washing every two weeks; and you may want to have it set, as well. If you’re not comfortable doing your own hair, add to your cancer budget the cost of a regular trip to the hairdresser for your wig.

  1. Work time lost

Whether you’re taking days off or going on short-term disability during active treatment, cancer will probably cost you at least some of your weekly paycheck. Some workplaces offer a “vacation bank,” where employees donate unused vacation days for fellow employees in need; ask about this where you work.

  1. Transportation/accommodations

Many cancer patients live far away from the hospital or cancer center where they’re getting treatment. If you’re undergoing radiation, the typical schedule is five days a week for five to six weeks. Either you’re going to be spending lots of time on the road (read: gas); or need a place to stay.

If you plan to stay locally, ask your hospital about lower-cost or even free accommodations. Many treatment centers offer access to rooms (and even meals) to patients and their families via housing supported by charitable donations.

  1. Over-the-counter drugs

Cancer treatment results in a world of smaller health concerns, from sleep deprivation to indigestion to aches and pains. Thankfully not serious, these issues still need to be treated — which means a trip to the local drugstore for ibuprofen, melatonin, or acid relief tablets. It all adds up.

  1. Skin and mouth treatment

Chemotherapy can damage the soft tissue in your mouth and throat; radiation can burn your skin. The special mouthwash and skin-care lotion for treating these side effects just adds another bill to your weekly list.

  1. Underwear and bathing suits

Many breast cancer patients have a mastectomy, which can forever alter your bra shopping. If you choose reconstruction, your cup size may change; if you go with a prosthesis, you’ll need a special bra with an insert. Ditto with bathing suits. Be prepared to spend some money enlarging your wardrobe.

  1. Chemo-friendly foods

Cancer treatment, including chemo, can throw a monkey wrench into your food budget. Much like pregnancy, treatment can make you crave certain foods, and quail at the sight of others. You may find yourself spending extra money for nutritional supplements, fancy crackers, fresh berries — or that one variety of ice cream bar you can tolerate.

  1. Splurges

When you’ve been slogging through treatment and are constantly stressed, sometimes you just want to chuck all your cares out the window and do something super-fun — like taking an overnight trip to the city, or having a spa day. It’s OK to give in and coddle yourself — you’ve earned it! To keep your credit card from taking a major hit, start tucking away money for just such an occasion.

  1. Exercise

Exercise leading to healthy weight maintenance helps reduce your risk of cancer recurrence. The best way to force yourself to exercise is to join a gym, and/or take regularly scheduled classes — both of which will cost you. But honestly — isn’t the extra expense is well worth it?

See more helpful articles:

Paying for Cancer Treatment: First, Don’t Panic

Having Chemotherapy? What You Need to Know Right Now

Breast Cancer Screening and Treatment on a Budget

Five Tips to Avoid Cancer’s Financial Toxicity