Money Worries Affect How Some Cancer Patients Take Prescribed Medicines

Photo of a worried man with bottles of prescription medicines

Many people with cancer make changes in their medication because they worry that they can’t afford what their doctors prescribe for them.

Many people with cancer make changes in their medication because they worry that they can’t afford what their doctors prescribe for them.

If you find out that you have cancer, it’s important to talk with your personal doctor and a cancer specialist to make a plan for the type of treatment you need, and to follow everything in that plan. However, an article in the journal Cancer states that about 3 out of every 10 people with cancer change their treatment because of money worries. This happens most often in people between 18 and 64 years old.

If you have worries about the cost of your treatment, it’s important to talk with your doctors about this. Your doctors can help make changes to your treatment plan that will cost less, but still be safe and work to control the cancer. If you make changes on your own, you may not get the best possible care.

Some Ways People Try to Save Money on Cancer Medicines

People try many ways to keep costs down. Some of these ways may not be safe or may not work very well for your cancer. Some of these ways are—

  • Not taking their medicine every time. For example, they may only take the medicine two times a day when they are supposed to take it three times a day.
  • Not taking the full amount of the medicine. For example, they may take only one pill when they are supposed to take two pills each time.
  • Putting off filling their prescriptions. For example, they may wait two or three days after a medicine runs out to get it refilled.
  • Asking their doctors if there is medicine that costs less that they can take instead.
  • Buying their cancer prescription drugs from another country, such as Mexico or Canada.
  • Using alternative therapies that are not proven to work.

What Can Be Done to Help with Costs

Because health care often costs a lot, worrying about the costs is natural, especially if you already have money challenges. However, instead of trying to cut costs on your own, you can try some other options—

  • Talk with your doctor and cancer specialist about ways to cut costs that won’t affect your treatment.
  • Contact your local health department. They may know of agencies in the area that offer free or cheaper health care services. Saving costs on services, even if it’s not for medicines, will help you save money on your overall treatment.

See more tips for managing the costs of cancer treatment.


Zheng Z, Han X, Guy GP Jr, Davidoff AJ, Li C, Banegas MP, Ekwueme DU, Yabroff KR, Jemal A. Do cancer survivors change their prescription drug use for financial reasons? Findings from a nationally representative sample in the United States. Cancer 2017;123(8):1453–1463.

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Cancer survivors in the United States, especially those younger than 65 and other health conditions as well as cancer, are more likely to change the way they use prescription drugs for finacial reasons than people without a history of cancer. Changing prescription drug use to save money can mean skipping doses, taking less medicine than prescribed, delaying filling prescriptions, asking a doctor for medicines that cost less, and buying drugs from another country.