Cancer Facts & Figures 2008 Special Section

Please note: This content is an excerpt from the American Cancer Society Cancer Facts & Figures 2008 publication. Please download Cancer Facts & Figures 2008 to see all Tables and Figures noted. Any reproduction or re-use should credit the appropriate Cancer Facts & Figures publication and include a statement of copyright and identify the data source used.


Paying for the costs of treatment is not usually the first concern that comes to mind when someone is diagnosed with cancer, but for many, it becomes an important one. Some individuals with modest incomes and no health insurance are able to obtain Medicaid or other forms of assistance after diagnosis, and most individuals with health insurance will have a substantial portion of their costs covered. Nonetheless, many individuals face cancer without adequate health insurance, and even those with standard private insurance policies may face high out-of-pocket costs associated with deductibles, co-pays, and annual or lifetime caps. For many cancer patients, health insurance status and other financial barriers delay or limit access to treatment and supportive services, and for almost all patients, cancer treatment presents a significant financial burden.

Since 2005, the American Cancer Society has documented the circumstances of more than 13,000 uninsured and underinsured cancer patients through the Health Insurance Assistance Service (HIAS), a program of the Society’s National Cancer Information Center (NCIC). While the HIAS can suggest options for dealing with the costs of cancer treatment to many callers, unfortunately, there are no options to address the needs of about 30% of people who seek help. Of those callers who had options suggested, 7 out of 10 found the options either unaffordable or inadequate. Lack of health insurance is an important barrier to cancer prevention and early detection; some of the patients who are struggling to pay for their cancer treatment could have prevented their cancers altogether or been diagnosed at an earlier stage had they had better access to health care.

Recognizing that reducing barriers to cancer care is critical in the fight to eliminate suffering and death due to cancer, the American Cancer Society and its sister advocacy organization, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM, are working together to bring the need for meaningful health care reform to the forefront of public and political debate. One important goal of this campaign is to educate Americans about the extent of the access to health care problem and to motivate them to take action in support of change. This Special Section of Cancer Facts & Figures, which provides an overview of systems of health insurance in the United States, describes the impact of being uninsured or underinsured on cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes.

Although this section focuses on associations between health insurance and cancer care and outcomes, it is important to recognize that health insurance is not the only barrier that needs to be addressed to ensure that everyone receives the full benefit of high-quality care.

Other factors include level of education and knowledge about health, trust in the health care system, language and cultural barriers, and geographic and transportation barriers. These factors are particularly important in relation to addressing health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities and the poor. Although addressing insurance and cost-related barriers to high-quality prevention, early detection, and treatment is not the only measure that will be needed to address these disparities, it is an important foundation that will support other efforts to promote equitable and high-quality care for racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved communities.

Cancer Facts & Figures 2008: Special Section (PDF)