Breast cancer brings about a range of practical issues that need attention. From how you manage your finances, through to employment and what to do about childcare, there’s a lot to think about and organise during an already difficult time.
My main concern was how long I could stay off work without an income before losing my house. Luckily I was OK as I was very careful and budgeted well. – Michelle
Undergoing breast cancer treatment can cause financial strain and worry. While your day-to-day expenses are likely to continue, you will probably also face additional costs for medical treatments and tests.
Fortunately, some support is available. If you are worried about the financial burden of your illness, you may like to:
- Talk to your doctor about the likely costs of tests, treatment and support services
- Find out about financial services in your area that might be able to help you. You can do this by asking your GP, breast care nurse or hospital social worker. You can also contact the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 for more information.
- Find out if you are eligible for a health care card from Centrelink (phone: 13 27 17). You may be eligible if you receive a Centrelink payment or if you are on a low income. A health care card can reduce the cost of your medications and other services.
- Find out if you are eligible for travel assistance through a state or territory government Patient Assisted Transport Scheme (PATS). If you are living in a rural or regional part of Australia, you may have to travel for treatment in another town or city. State and territory governments offer financial assistance for some people who have to travel for treatment. More information about PATS can be found on our Support in rural areas page or by downloading our fact sheet.
- Download the Managing the financial impacts of breast cancer fact sheet for further information about the range of benefits, subsidies and services that may be available to you and your family.
- Download the BCNA Financial Tracker to log associated expenses.
The financial impact of breast cancer
BCNA commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to investigate the financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on women and their families.
The report, titled The financial impact of breast cancer, surveyed BCNA's members about the out-of-pocket costs of their breast cancer treatment and care, and other associated costs. The survey aimed to quantify the out-of-pocket costs faced by a woman in the first five years after a breast cancer diagnosis. Almost 2,000 survey responses were received.
You can read the report, case studies of how breast cancer has impacted women financially, as well as tips for reducing your treatment and care costs on The Financial impact of breast cancer web page.
Managing the expenses of breast cancer
While everyone’s situation is different, it can be helpful to hear other women's stories. In the video below, Australian women share their thoughts on how they managed the expenses of breast cancer.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Medicare
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is an Australian Government scheme that subsidises the cost of some medicines. If you have a Medicare card you will be covered by the PBS.
While most breast cancer medicines are subsidised through the PBS, some are not and so you will be required to pay the full cost of them. It is a good idea to ask your doctor if there are subsidised medicines suitable for you.
To find out if the medicines you use are covered by the PBS, visit the Australian Government Department of Human Services website.
Under the PBS Safety Net, when you have paid a certain amount for prescription medicines in less than one calendar year, you will be eligible to pay less, or in some cases nothing, for in the rest of your PBS medicines for that year. Ask your pharmacist, Medicare or Centrelink how to register for the Safety Net. For more information, visit the PBS website.
The Medicare Safety Net works in the same way. Once you have paid a certain amount in medical fees, you won't have to pay as much for the rest of the year. Services which count towards the Medicare Safety Net include GP and specialist consultations, ultrasounds, scans, X-rays and blood tests.
If you are single, you do not need to register for the Medicare Safety Net, but be sure to let Medicare know if you change your address. Couples and families do need to register for the Medicare Safety Net, so that your combined medical costs can contribute to your family safety net. Visit your local Medicare office, or call Medicare on 13 20 11, to register. For more information, visit the Medicare website.
GP Management Plans
Women diagnosed with breast cancer may be eligible to claim through Medicare for up to five allied health service appointments per year, including with a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychologist or dietitian. Ask your GP about developing a GP Management Plan and/or a Team Care Arrangement for you. Visit the Services Australia website for more information.
After you’ve been through breast cancer you may find you have trouble obtaining travel insurance. If you are intending to travel, it’s a good idea to find out what your options are before you book. For more information, please download our travel insurance fact sheets.
You may find that continuing to work during your treatment helps to bring a sense of 'normality' to your life. It can also help to keep you occupied during your treatment. However, you may not be strong enough to work especially if you are experiencing side effects such as fatigue or nausea.
I returned to work one day after finishing radiotherapy. Now, looking back, I wish I had taken some time off to rest and relax. – Melissa
Here are some tips for managing work during your breast cancer:
- Talk to your employer as soon as possible about your diagnosis. She or he may be able to work out a job share or reduced hours arrangement for you
- Find out your entitlements regarding paid and unpaid leave from your manager or human resources manager
- If you are self-employed you may be able to find someone to step into your role for a while
- If your work includes manual tasks, talk to your doctor about whether these aspects of your job need to be modified
- If you have income protection or trauma insurance you may be eligible to make a claim while going through your treatment. Some superannuation funds include insurance – you can call your company to ask about this.
If you have young children, child care can be a complex issue. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy involve periods where you are immune-compromised and your treating team will advise you to avoid exposure to possible sources of infection. Long Day Care or Family Day Care programs are not usually an option when you are in treatment, because there’s a risk of your child bringing home a virus or other form of infection. In-home care is a more appropriate option. Paying for in-home care can unfortunately be expensive and is often out of reach for many young women and their families.
If you have limited options for child care, you may need some extra assistance.
The Services Australia Child Care website provides information on government financial assistance for child care, such as the Child Care Subsidy. It also explains the terms and conditions of application.
You can also visit the Australian Government’s Child Care Finder website, which provides information on:
- the types of care available (e.g. long day care, family day care, occasional care and in-home care)
- the location of child care services in your area, and any possible vacancies
- the fees charged
- how to choose a quality child care service
- how the Australian Government can help with the cost of your child care.
Child Care Subsidy
It is so difficult sole parenting young children with little to no support. Managing the day-to-day housekeeping and cooking has been challenging. – Zoe
The Child Care Subsidy provides assistance to help with the cost of child care. If you are eligible for the Child Care Subsidy, you may get extra help with the cost of approved child care through the Additional Child Care Subsidy.
For more information on the Child Care Subsidy, visit the Services Australia website or call 13 61 50.
For more information on dealing with practical issues during breast cancer treatment and recovery, you might like to:
- Visit My Journey which is a free resource that provides up-to-date, reliable information tailored to your changing needs and circumstances.
- Download the Managing the financial impacts of breast cancer fact sheet
- Find out how Cancer Council can assist with transport and accommodation costs during treatment.