The Cost of Breast Cancer

The financial hardship that often accompanies a breast cancer diagnosis comes as a shock to many. Treatments may involve additional drug costs, therapies and/or medical devices not fully covered by provincial health plans or private health care insurance. The average length of treatment for breast cancer takes place over 38 weeks but can often last as long as a year. Employment Insurance provides benefits for only 15 weeks at a very reduced portion of salary and not everyone qualifies.  

There are many different kinds of breast cancer, each involving a different treatment plan. The length of time from the diagnosis to the completion of treatment varies depending on the type of breast cancer and at what stage it is diagnosed. Breast cancer diagnosed at an early stage may involve surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy) and possibly radiation. (35 treatments over six to seven weeks). Twenty-five percent of women diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer will receive regular injections of a drug for approximately eleven months. after active treatment, to reduce the chance of recurrence. Treatments for later stage or aggressive forms of breast cancer may involve chemotherapy before surgery, followed by more chemotherapy and radiation and will involve many months of traveling to and from the hospital for treatment.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund provides short-term financial assistance to breast cancer patients facing financial difficulties.

Case Study

For Linda M, 44, mother of three, the cost of Breast Cancer is $42,000.00

Linda, 44 is married with three children (10, 8 and 3 yrs old). Linda had chemotherapy before undergoing a double mastectomy followed by additional chemotherapy. After twelve months of treatment (chemotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation), Linda returned to work. For the next eleven months, Linda received monthly injections of a drug that will help reduce her risk of a recurrence. In addition, for five years, she will take a pill daily to further reduce her risk of recurrence.

Lost Wages (net) $39,000.00
Wig * $500.00
Breast Prosthetics (2) ** $400.00
Two Specialty Bras $130.00
Child Care $420.00
Other *** $1550.00
Total (approx.) $42, 000.00

Linda considers herself fortunate. She is married to a supportive husband and has family and neighbours who helped by taking children to activities and providing the occasional meal.

Many young women in their twenties and early thirties have limited resources and move back with their parents during treatment. Single parents often struggle to make ends meet.

* Wig is average priced and composed of synthetic fibre

** Provincial subsidies vary but average approximately $195 per prosthetic

*** Other expenses: Hospital parking for numerous appointments, (pre-operative, post-operative, tests, doctors appointments, chemotherapy treatments), child care, special-order garment for a condition resulting from surgery.


The Financial Impact

16% Sixteen percent of breast cancer patients had their jobs terminated while undergoing treatment.
17% Seventeen percent were unable to return to their previous job with the same title and salary.
21% Twenty one per cent of respondents reported returning to work before they were fully able due to financial pressure.
27% Twenty seven percent took on debt to cover treatment costs.
38wks The average length of treatment for breast cancer is 38 weeks. However, Employment Insurance benefits provide payments for only 15 weeks.

Source: Canadian Breast Cancer Network

Make a donation to the Canadian breast Cancer Support fund today and help a breast cancer patient who lives in your community.

In the News

  • New Mom with Breast Cancer denied EI Sick Benefit.

    May 18, 2010 by Theresa Boyle

    "A new mother planning to return to work when she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer is denied benefits."

    Read More »


  • Toward Kinder Care: Tracing Women’s Experience of Breast Cancer

    This report offers a series of recommendations identifying how care could be optimized. Recommendations have been made in the areas of education and prevention, screening mammography, coordinated treatment and care, and financial supports.

    Recommendation #9: Advocacy to address the financial impact of breast cancer on patients should be undertaken and encompass policy and practices related to income security, private insurance plans and government- funded. financial assistance.

    Read More (PDF)

  • Breast Cancer: Economic Impact and Labour Force Re-Entry - A Study by the Canadian Breast Cancer Net

    This report examines the financial impact of breast cancer by highlighting the direct and indirect costs faced by Canadians and their families while battling this disease. The report firmly positions breast cancer as an economic issue as well as a health issue.

    Read More »
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