Financial Resources for Cancer Patients – Foundation for Women's Cancer
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Financial Resources for Cancer Patients

A cancer diagnosis will have an impact on you and your immediate family in many ways. Having sufficient health insurance and the financial resources to pay for cancer treatments may be a concern. Whether you are newly diagnosed or no longer in active treatment, it is important to have an understanding of common health care coverage terms as well as access to treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about covering your health care expenses, and where you might go for additional assistance.

Financial questions to ask your treatment team

  • What treatments will I need?
  • How many visits will this require? At what frequency? For how long?
  • How flexible is my treatment schedule, in case I need to work around my job or other life events?
  • Will I be able to work during treatments?
  • Who can I contact about health care costs and concerns related to them?
  • How much will I have to pay for a co-pay at each doctor visit or treatment and when is it due?
  • Are payment plans available?
  • Is there someone who can tell me what the total cost of treatment will be?
  • If I participate in a clinical trial, what will I be asked to pay for?
  • Is a generic form of my medicine available? A cheaper similar drug? A special program to help me cover costs?
  • Are there special programs to assist with transportation or lodging?
  • Are there any programs to help with family support (i.e., child care)?
  • Should I be planning on having financial plans for a long-term care facility, a nursing home or hospice care?

Additional resources:

Qualifying for Social Security benefits for gynecologic cancer

From chemotherapy to surgery, gynecologic cancer treatments can take anyone out of the office. If you’ve been diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer and you’ll be unable to work for at least 12 months, you might be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA)[i] offers these much-needed financial resources to millions of people in need.

Medical qualifications for disability benefits

Not every woman with ovarian cancer will “automatically” medically qualify for disability benefits. The SSA uses its own medical guide known as the Blue Book[ii] to evaluate every applicant for Social Security. The Blue Book contains hundreds of potentially qualifying illnesses, and which test results or symptoms you’ll need medical records of to be approved.

“Cancers of the female genital tract” can be found in Section 13.23[iii] of the Blue Book. Under this listing, there are a handful of ways for you to medically qualify:

  1. Your cancer is not a germ cell tumor, and has at least one of the following:
  • Extension beyond the pelvis, such as to the bowels
  • Spread past regional lymph nodes
  • Returned despite anticancer therapy (usually 3 months will qualify)
  1. Your ovarian cancer[iv] is germ cell, and it has returned since your initial anticancer therapy.
  2. Your cancer is small cell/oat cell, which is usually aggressive and more challenging to treat.

The Blue Book was written for medical professionals and is available online, so you can review the ovarian cancer listing with your oncologist to get a better understanding as to whether or not your unique diagnosis will meet a listing.

Medically qualifying without meeting a listing

Not every form of ovarian cancer will qualify under the Blue Book. This is especially true for women diagnosed at Stage I or Stage II. Fortunately, there is another way for you to qualify. People who do not meet a listing but can still prove they’re unable to work can receive disability benefits under what’s called a Medical Vocational Allowance.

You can qualify for a Medical Vocational Allowance[v] if your chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or other anticancer therapies will have side effects so severe you’re unable to work. The SSA considers “work” to be earning more than $1,180 per month in 2018. Typically, older adults will have a much easier time qualifying under a Medical Vocational Allowance than younger applicants. This is because the SSA believes applicants aged 50+ will have a much harder time getting retrained for a sedentary job that’s easier to keep while going through cancer therapies.

If you currently work in an office and have a lot of skills that could be applicable to another career (computer skills, vocational work, etc.) you will likely have a tough time qualifying for a Medical Vocational Allowance. But older women who have physically active jobs have a good chance of qualifying. A Medical Vocational Allowance relies heavily on results from an SSA-standard form known as a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation[vi]. This form determines how much physical labor you can do, from standing, walking, lifting weight, etc. You can download an RFC online for your oncologist to fill out on your behalf.

Starting your application

Most women with ovarian cancer can apply for disability benefits entirely online. If you’d prefer, you can also schedule an appointment with your closest Social Security office. You can make a date to apply by calling the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.

It usually takes around 5 months to hear back from the SSA, but if your ovarian cancer is advanced (has spread to other organs) or has returned despite treatment, your claim could be expedited and approved in as little as 10 days.

This article was written by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at or by contacting them at