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Finance and practical support

Finance and practical support

Updated: 24 Aug 2023
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Breast cancer can bring about a range of practical issues for you to think about. From how you manage your finances, through to employment and what to do about childcare, there’s a lot to consider 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, BCNA Member


Undergoing breast cancer treatment can cause financial strain and worry. While your day-to-day expenses are likely to continue, you will probably face additional costs for medical treatments and tests. If you are unable to continue paid work or unable to work in the same capacity as before you were diagnosed the loss of income can also contribute to financial pressure on you and your family.

If you are worried about the costs associated with treatment, you can:

  • Talk to your doctor about the likely costs of tests and treatment. Ask if some of these services can be bulk billed or about other payment options to help manage these costs. You can also choose to have some of your treatment in the private system (e.g chemotherapy) and some in the public system (e.g radiotherapy) to save costs.
  • Talk to your GP, breast care nurse or hospital social worker about financial services in your area that might be able to help you.
  • Depending on your circumstances, you and your family may be eligible for financial assistance through Centrelink. You can talk to your hospital social worker or visit the Centrelink Payment Finder to find out more about what support may be available to you. You may be eligible to receive a Centrelink payment or, if you are on a low income, a health care card to reduce the cost of your medications and other services. Call Centrelink on 13 27 17.
  • You may be eligible to claim a Medicare rebate for up to five allied health service appointments per year to help manage treatment side effects 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 Services Australia  for more information.
  • 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 eligible people who must travel for treatment through a Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) This provides a subsidy for travel and accommodation costs. More information about PATS can be found in our Support in rural areas  article.
  • If you are having difficulty paying bills, credit cards or making loan repayments, the first step is to talk with your financial institution, e.g. your bank. Let them know that you are experiencing financial hardship because of your breast cancer diagnosis. Many companies have hardship officers who can assist you with an affordable payment plan or temporarily altering your loan repayments. You may be able to get some free advice and assistance through the National Debt Helpline.
  • Keep a record of your expenses and paperwork. This will help you keep track of what you spend and might help you down the track if you need to make claims. You will also need to produce documentation if you want to access government benefits through Centrelink or if you want to make a claim through your life insurance or superannuation.

PBS 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 Services Australia 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 the rest of your PBS medicines for that year. Ask your pharmacist, Medicare or Centrelink how to register for the PBS Safety Net.

The Medicare Safety Net works in a similar 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 that 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.


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.

Here are some tips for managing work while you are dealing with having breast cancer:

  • Talk to your employer as soon as possible about your diagnosis. They 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.
  • Early access to superannuation may be another option for you. Generally, you cannot access your superannuation until you have reached the minimum retirement age. However, in some circumstances you can apply to access your superannuation early. These include severe financial hardship or compassionate grounds. Before you apply for early access to your superannuation, it is important to understand the short and long-term financial impacts of taking money out of your superannuation early. Contact a financial adviser who will be able to offer assistance and advice that is most appropriate for you.

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, BCNA Member 

Child care

If you have young children, child care can be a complex issue. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy involve periods in which 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 always 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 may be a more appropriate option. Paying for in-home care can, unfortunately, be expensive and is often out of reach for many families.

If you have limited options for childcare, you may need some extra assistance. Services Australia provides information on accessing child care and the government financial assistance for child care, such as the Child Care Subsidy. It also explains the terms and conditions of application.

These pages provide 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.

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, BCNA Member

Child Care Subsidy

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 Services Australia or call 13 61 50.

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