The hidden costs of breast cancer and financial planning tips from experts

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  • Breast cancer is among the most common types of cancers in women.
  • A breast cancer diagnosis is followed by additional medical and non-medical peripheral costs.
  • A diagnosis can cause financial strain and can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional health. 


October is known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As one of the common cancers in women, awareness around breast cancer is still necessary. According to the National Cancer Registry, breast cancer is one of the top five cancers that affect women in South Africa.

There are several hidden and unexpected costs that can come with being diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot of treatments are needed for patients, and due to the socioeconomic statuses in the country, not everyone can afford the necessary treatments.

Dr Dominique Stott, the Chief Medical Officer at Liberty, explains that the hidden costs of breast cancer can either be medically related or not.

"There are medically hidden costs and there are peripheral costs that are not directly medically related. They are part of the supportive care that is always important," she says.

She tells W24 that in our economy it is harder for those without medical aid to afford treatment. And adds: "With regards to a population like ours where the majority of people do not have medical aid, they receive good care, but they are left under the circumstances where they cannot afford necessarily all the specialised treatment that a medical aid might be able to provide."

She continues to say that a lot of people cannot afford additional costs like counselling for family and themselves after receiving a devastating diagnosis.

A breast cancer diagnosis not only causes financial strain but it takes a toll on one’s mental and emotional health. “It also affects the family and friends of the patients, and they may also need counselling which is also a cost,” says Dr Dominique.

READ MORE | Cancer changes life profoundly, how to care for a friend as they navigate life after diagnosis

One of the other hidden costs of breast cancer is transportation. To and from the hospital, it helps to have your own transport but that still comes with extra costs. The other cost is cosmetic implications, some women will have to buy headscarves or wigs after losing their hair. Some women might need to get new bras after a mastectomy.

Elaine Markus, the head of Assurance Products and Assurance claims at Standard Bank Group tells W24 that life insurance helps with the unexpected and hidden costs that come with breast cancer.

“These policies can assist with the financial burden of acquiring such an illness or what we in the insurance industry call a “dread disease” such as cancer. Dread disease, critical illness and even disability cover can be valuable when an individual is unable to continue their normal lifestyle or earn an income. And even when one can still earn their normal income, the financial burden is exacerbated when one receives a diagnosis of cancer, as the care and treatment can be costly and often unaffordable,” she says.

Life insurance helps with securing and taking care of one’s future. Depending on the cover that you choose, some options will pay out on diagnosis treatment and terminal care.

After a diagnosis, it is important to ask your health care specialist about the costs that come with it. It is also important to ask questions before taking out life insurance, so you know what you’re signing up for.

READ MORE | Breast cancer awareness is not enough: Public health strategies need to be based on prevention

"There will no doubt be some obligations as a customer that you will have to fulfil, such as ensuring you answer questions truthfully and disclose your medical history. Once you have engaged in a contract with an insurer, ensure that you read and understand your policy document. I know that terms and conditions can be daunting to read, and the technical jargon can sometimes be confusing, but don’t be afraid to ask questions until you are confident that you know what you are covered for, what the conditions of cover are and what you can expect should you have a claim," says Elaine.

When you take out life insurance, the insurer should make sure that they explain all there is to know about the claims. "If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your claim, your insurer should have a formal complaints process that you would need to engage in, should you still not be satisfied with the outcome then you can approach the Ombud for long term insurance," she adds.

Elaine closes off by saying, "I encourage all women and men to empower themselves with knowledge not just about cancer, but just ensuring that one understands their options for financial planning reasons and how you can ensure that you do what you can to plan for some of the challenges that life throws our way."

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