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Civil Litigation

Oct. 24, 2022

Cancer and the law

Someone with cancer often faces unexpected challenges, and though they might not need a lawyer, they may need to know their rights and what national or state laws apply to their legal issue.

Shelly Rosenfeld

Co-Director, Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC), a national program of the 501(c) nonprofit Disability Rights Legal Center

"The law is a system that protects everybody who can afford to hire a good lawyer." - Mark Twain

In the seventh grade I was sitting on a couch in my parent's Pennsylvania home when I decided I wanted to become a news anchor. I frequently watched Action News in Philadelphia with admiration, learning how journalists equipped viewers with facts that could help them lead more informed lives. The only notion farther from my mind than law was the issue of cancer.

It was in college and later as a journalist that I began to realize how important a lawyer's role can be. An attorney can be the best hope for justice on a person's behalf. As a journalist, I saw firsthand the financial toll on people experiencing health issues and debilitating medication costs.

Someone Affected by Cancer May Have Legal Rights to Assert

In law school, I learned about the Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC) - a program of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Disability Rights Legal Center - and even volunteered as a student during one of my winter breaks. Years later as co-director of the CLRC, my colleagues and I provided free legal resources nationwide to people affected by cancer. People often ask "What does cancer have to do with the law?" The answer is that cancer affects a person's life far beyond the doctor's office. Whether it is seeking to manage financial toxicity, such as the negative impact of costs related to treatment, requesting time off for treatment, seeking reasonable accommodations at the workplace, appealing a health insurance denial for medicine, or dealing with housing issues, cancer affects a wide variety of legal issues. It's almost harder to find an issue that cancer does not affect.

The CLRC provides information about everything from advanced planning to social security. As an example, one caller had been working at his job for years and wanted to learn about his potential rights if he were to ask for reasonable accommodation after his treatment started. He was grateful he called the CLRC before his work performance was affected due to his medication's side effects.

Someone with cancer often faces unexpected challenges, and though they might not need a lawyer, they may need to know their rights and what national or state laws apply to their legal issue.

Someone Affected by Cancer May Need a Lawyer

However, for someone affected by cancer, there are times when they do need a lawyer. While the CLRC provides critical information and resources that help individuals deal with their problems, it does not generally provide direct legal advice or representation. Sometimes callers require legal advice or direct advocacy to resolve concerns. The CLRC refers individuals to attorneys or other professionals on its Professional Panel, which is comprised of attorneys who practice in their geographic area and have expertise in the area of inquiry - such as employment, insurance, estate planning, government benefits, medical malpractice, consumer rights or family law. These lawyers agree in advance to help a CLRC caller pro bono for a free thirty-minute consultation, either in-person or on the telephone. Any further representation, and fees charged, if any, are up to the Panel member and the referred CLRC caller.

You May be an Attorney Who Can Help

A lawyer who is a member of the bar in any state can apply to volunteer on the CLRC Professional Panel. Attorneys receive the referral only if it's someone within the state in which they are licensed, and on a matter within one of their practice areas. Lawyers are often surprised that their specialty area would help someone. There's a special satisfaction for a lawyer who volunteers to help someone when they are in need and at their most vulnerable state. This is precisely what drew me to journalism and helps drive my motivation to research and inform others of practical information when they need it most. As a lawyer, you may be able to ensure that cancer patients and their families understand their rights, and provide guidance towards necessary legal action.

This article is ​meant for educational and informational use only. This article is not intended as legal or medical advice and should not substitute for an individual legal consultation with an experienced attorney in your state.

For more tips or answers to cancer-related legal questions, contact the CLRC at 866-843-2572 or visit


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