Examine Yourself: The financial cost of a cancer diagnosis

The demands of daily life do not cease upon diagnosis of cancer, says social worker Denis Spillane, who works with cancer patients of the Mercy University Hospital, and says financial worries add to their stress.

Examine Yourself: The financial cost of a cancer diagnosis

The demands of daily life do not cease upon diagnosis of cancer, says social worker Denis Spillane, who works with cancer patients of the Mercy University Hospital, and says financial worries add to their stress.

“Medically incurred expenses accumulate very quickly post-diagnosis and this additional expense often coincides with a significant decrease in means, income, or earning potential,” he says.

“For many patients, whose income is reduced or confined to social welfare payments, whilst on active treatment, mortgage/rent (re)payments, loan repayments, childcare costs and household costs are a focus of concern and source of additional anxiety.”

Medically incurred expenses are often unexpected. The Irish Cancer Society Millward Brown Patient Survey (2015) outlined an average increase in expenditure of €862 per month.

These expenses include medicines, hospital stays, increased heating/electricity bills, costs associated with hospital visits (parking, accommodation, and subsistence costs), physiotherapy, counselling/psychotherapy, and other specialties.

Mr Spillane says many patients are often surprised that a medical card is not an automatic entitlement with a cancer diagnosis. Travel costs can also accumulate quickly for patients.

For example, parents of children will travel to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, as well as their local treatment centre.

The Volunteer Driver Service, operated by the Irish Cancer Society, provides free transport for patients to and from chemotherapy treatments.

What financial supports/benefits/allowances are available to people who have been diagnosed with cancer and to their families?

“The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection provides a range of benefits/allowances for patients living with cancer and for those providing care for a family member living with cancer,” says Mr Spillane.

These include illness benefit, disability allowance, invalidity allowance, working family payment (formerly family income supplement), carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit, domiciliary care allowance (payable on behalf children up until age of 16 years).

It is up to the patient or their family to apply for these supports. They are not automatic. Revenue will provide tax relief on some medically incurred expenses and there is also a scheme for children living with a haematology/oncology diagnosis.

The charity sector provides additional financial support to oncology patients and their families.

“These financial supports are made available as family support payments and/or one off grants,” he says.

“These charities include, but are not confined to, the Mercy Hospital Foundation, Children’s Leukaemia Association, Irish Cancer Society, Marie Keating Foundation, and Aoibheann’s Pink Tie.

The Irish Cancer Society also provides standardised grants to families of children with a cancer diagnosis, as well as financial support to those travelling to access treatment in recognised treatment centres and facilitate a volunteer driver service for patents travelling to access chemotherapy (chemotherapy only, not available for accessing radiotherapy).”

I asked Mr Spillane what financial advice he would give to someone who has received a cancer diagnosis.

“Diagnosis can be an overwhelming experience in patients’ lives and many patients are unaware of the availability of specific financial supports, benefits and entitlements,” he says.

A good starting point for patients at diagnosis stage is to ask to be referred to a medical social worker in their treatment centre. Medical social workers provide information re benefits/entitlements, as well as an advocacy role in securing these financial supports.

"Medical social workers will provide psycho-social support at diagnosis and throughout treatment.”

Patients should ask their hospitals about the supports available to them.

The Irish Cancer Society has a patient guide, ‘The Financial Impact Of Cancer’, which can be downloaded from its website.


Cancer treatment can be gruelling, but Irish charities provide support.

In addition to social and practical support, as outlined in our lead, charites around the country also offer complementary therapies, like massage and programmes to improve overall wellbeing, such as yoga, pilates, and art therapy.

Charities that provide these services free to patients include ARC Cancer Support Centres in Cork, Dublin, and many other counties.

“Our aim is to provide therapies that complement the medical model, so as to make a difference to the lives of those affected by cancer,” Cork ARC Cancer Support House says.

In some areas, other charities provide similar supports. Some also provide support for children of parents who have cancer.

You can get a full list of local support services nationwide, and their contact details, at cancer.ie.

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