How much is chemo?

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you may be worried about how much your chemotherapy treatment will cost and how to deal with all the bills.

Treating cancer isn’t cheap, and chemotherapy — which uses strong drugs to destroy or slow the growth of cancerous cells — is one of the most expensive parts of treatment. Other cancer care costs can include doctor and clinic visits, imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs, radiation treatments, hospital stays, surgery and home care.

Here’s what you might expect to pay for treatment, plus some ways to help manage the costs.

How much do cancer drugs cost?

The costs you pay for chemotherapy will vary depending on the type of cancer being treated, the drugs and where you buy them, where you are treated, your health insurance, and how often and how long you’ll need treatment.

Patients typically can get chemotherapy in a hospital outpatient department, clinic or physician’s office. Chemotherapy treatment in a hospital outpatient department costs an average of 24% more than treatment in a physician’s office, according to a study by Avalere Health.

However, the biggest factors in the cost of chemotherapy are the type of cancer being treated and the drugs being used.

Brain cancers cost the most to treat, an average of more than $108,000 in the first year after a diagnosis in women and more than $115,000 for men, according to the National Cancer Institute. By contrast, treating melanoma, a skin cancer, costs an average of $5,000 for women and $5,400 for men in the first year after diagnosis. These figures include total costs of treatment, not just the drugs.

The cost of cancer drugs can range from as little as $100 a month to as much as $65,000 a month for some newer medications, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Find help paying for your cancer treatment

If you have health insurance, it’ll cover a portion of your chemotherapy drugs and services, but how much depends on your health plan.

Medicare, the national insurance program for the elderly and those with certain conditions, covers chemotherapy for cancer patients who spend at least one night in the hospital, outpatients and patients in a doctor’s office or clinic. You’ll have to pay a copay as a hospital outpatient and 20% of the Medicare-approved amount if you get treatment in a doctor’s office or clinic, according to Medicare.gov.

Federal and state programs may be able to provide financial assistance to people with cancer. The American Cancer Society has information on covering the costs of cancer treatment.

You might also consider starting a fundraiser on a crowdfunding site like GiveForward or YouCaring, so that friends, family and others can help with your bills.

You also may be able to apply for Social Security disability benefits, which are paid to people who can’t work because of a medical condition expected to last at least a year or result in death. Visit the website to apply for benefits or call 800-772-1212.

Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: . Twitter: @LacieWrites.

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  • $300 million capital works fund for cancer hospitals and regional radiation centres
  • $500 million to shrink treatment waiting lists for cancer patients in state-run hospitals
  • $37.7 million to support kids with cancer
  • $10 million to develop an informed financial consent standard to ensure patients are given clear and consistent information about the costs and options of their treatment
  • Bill Shorten admits that some of the services Labor promises to fund are already free in public hospitals, but he says waiting lists are forcing people into the private system.

    Both Labor and the government have guaranteed to list every drug on the PBS that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) recommends, and has committed to expanding regional radiation services.

    The Cancer Council, Consumers Health Forum and Breast Cancer Network Australia have all broadly welcomed Labor’s and the Coalition’s cancer announcements.

    Our explainers give you background on the news in Australia and overseas. If you want something explained, including during the federal election campaign, drop us a line at [email protected] or [email protected]

    The pieces of her life began to fit back together after she turned 40. Having stared death in the face, Sleight asked herself, What is really going to make me happy in the time I have left? She came up with answers: a better job in the mortgage industry, a real estate portfolio to deliver rental income, helping people quit the cancer habit, travel.

    Her health woes had carried her past childbearing age, but she was OK with that. Life offered other rewards — and surprises, too.

    With her medical team on the lookout for a recurrence, Sleight lived through “scan-xiety,” sweating out each round of scans and biopsies. It was expensive and uncomfortable — an inevitable part of the cancer survivor “lifestyle.” But by age 55, she had been through enough to feel a little superior to the doctors who prescribed the tests. So in August 2010, when a mammogram showed a shadow, Sleight reacted in anger. “I thought, Son of a bitch! You got a new radiation guy and he doesn’t know what he’s looking at! It’s just a scar from my last cancer!” But after 23 years, the cancer was back. Even so, Sleight wasn’t devastated. “I’d been through this before. I knew the drill.”

    This time she opted for a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. “I didn’t want to go through cancer a third time,” she explains. Her first cancer treatment cost about $40,000. Two decades later, the bill was $120,000. Again, she was covered by insurance. But her copays and premiums added up to $25,000 at a time when she couldn’t work. Not included in those costs: lost wages, travel to and from surgery, forfeited revenue from real estate investments she lost to foreclosure, and the incalculable human cost of more suffering.

    And all this happened to a woman with insurance and the financial savvy that comes with operating her own businesses. If Sleight found herself in a hole, what chance do the rest of us have if a scan goes sideways?

    They don’t know what they don’t know

    The staff at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center would rather focus on health than economics. Increasingly, though, those matters have become the same thing. Lyman says he’s “first and foremost an oncologist,” but he has grown “deeply concerned about the barriers and impact of cost on the patients with cancer and on the health care system.” Unfortunately, he points out, he works in a growth industry: “Virtually every one of us will be impacted individually—or in our family, or one of our close friends—by cancer.”

    And the growth-industry label applies to the cost of treatment, too. Says Lyman: “Recent studies we’ve done have shown high rates of bankruptcy among patients with cancer. And this has escalated over the past decade, as some of the exciting new agents that have come along have just skyrocketed.” Indeed, despite the financial hurdles, most patients are not suddenly opting to forgo costly treatments. If anything, it’s quite the opposite. “There’s something about the c-word that’s galvanizing,” says Heffern, the social worker in Denver. “They say, ‘Jimmy Carter got immunotherapy and it helped his malignant metastatic melanoma. Why can’t I have that for my cancer?’ ”

    One study noted that “novel cancer therapy agents can cost more than $60,000 a month for treatment. And the average monthly cost per agent has more than doubled in the past decade, to $10,000.” Blood cancer patients, for instance, are treated regularly with an intravenous bag of a drug called Rituxan, which can cost up to $5,000; it’s like dripping gold into a person’s veins.

    And here’s another “problem”: These expensive drugs and therapies tend to work, so people survive.

    “We’re the victims of our own success,” says Heffern. People who “beat” cancer often face a whole new round of expenses if it returns, and the costs of treatment can double or triple from one diagnosis to the next. Enter the need for a medical-financial adviser. But like a medical scan that’s fuzzy or inconclusive, so is the picture of a patient’s ability to pay for the most promising treatment.

    Sometimes having high income — or life savings — can be the last thing a person wants when the cancer diagnosis comes. At the time of her first cancer, Sleight had a $5,000 CD, a sign of solvency that effectively blocked her access to many services she desperately needed.

    Dan Sherman launched a pilot program in financial navigation at Mercy Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., that tweaked the health insurance plans for 675 patients. He made sure they were on supportive plans, signed up for government assistance and tapped available drug-cost-abatement programs. His team reduced participants’ financial responsibilities by almost $12 million and saved the hospital charitable outlays and bad debts by almost $7.5 million. There were also considerable savings on the human-suffering side of the ledger.

    So aren’t hospitals lining up to implement financial-counseling programs with Sherman’s NaVectis Group? “They’re not,” he says. “It’s hard to convince hospitals that there is a void in this service.” A lot of them already employ financial navigators, but their staff are undertrained for the job. “The majority have a high school diploma,” he notes. “And those individuals are cheap, right? But they don’t know what they don’t know.”

    Lessons from the second time around

    VJ Sleight had been down the hard road of cancer treatment before. So she chose a different path the second time around.

    “I played the cancer card this time,” she says. Like a lot of other people in their 50s, she was stranded in a coverage gap — too young for Medicare, too affluent for Medicaid. So she stopped paying her bills. She defaulted on her real estate holdings. She cut back in every way possible. She drove her old car into the ground. No trips to the hairdresser, no travel, no new clothes.

    She also decided to max out on personal support.

    That’s how she found her way to Gilda’s Club in Cathedral City, Calif. The organization was named for former Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, who died from ovarian cancer in 1989. Founded in 1995, the club provides a community of people who accept the rage, the depression and the day-to-day hopes of cancer patients. “I had so many poignant moments with people at the end of their lives,” Sleight says. “I felt so privileged.”

    Sleight is seven years out from her most recent financial crash and notes that her credit report will soon be clean. She can see financial daylight ahead. She lives with mountain views all around, in a house filled with mementos of her travels to six continents and 30 countries (between bouts of cancer). She has a roster of friends made while battling disease. And her double mastectomy means that she is likely done with breast cancer.

    She refused chemo the second time around, partly for financial reasons. But that decision resonated with her emotionally and philosophically as well. “Through it all, you do a lot of thinking about the meaning of life and death.”

    Asked a question about her case, Sleight leaves the room for a moment and returns with a thick binder containing every medical image, every blood test, every diagnostic report from her long, difficult history as a patient. She’s the Leo Tolstoy of medical records. “I’ve learned that you have to be super organized. You have to be your own advocate,” she says. She pats her thick medical scrapbook: “Doctors see this and they respect me.”

    Peter Moore, the former editor of Men’s Health, is a freelance writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo.

    Cost of Mesothelioma Treatment

    How Much Does Each Treatment Cost?

    The cost of each mesothelioma treatment depends on the patient’s individual treatment plan, the health care providers they choose, and their insurance coverage.

    The following amounts are based on the cost of lung cancer treatment, which is comparable to mesothelioma treatment.

    • Chemotherapy: A 2013 cost-effectiveness study of Alimta (pemetrexed) plus cisplatin reported a total cost of $40,102 for first-line mesothelioma treatment. The cost varies depending on the exact drugs used, how many rounds are given and other factors specific to each patient.
    • Surgery: Pleural mesothelioma surgery is comparable to lung cancer surgery. A stage 1 lung cancer patient could pay more than $26,000 in monthly surgery costs. But the cost of surgery depends on the specific treatment center and surgical techniques used.
    • Radiation Therapy: According to a 2015 study of radiation therapy for cancer patients with Medicare, the median cost of a course of radiation for lung cancer was $9,000.

    For most patients, health insurance covers most of the costs of cancer treatment but still leaves major bills for patients to pay out of pocket.

    What Are the Hidden Costs of Mesothelioma Treatment?

    Medical bills are only part of the total financial cost of having mesothelioma.

    Additional expenses related to cancer treatment include lost income, caregiving costs and expenses for travel and lodging when your treatment center is far from your home. A mesothelioma patient or their caregiver may not be able to work during treatment. Many American families go into debt after a cancer diagnosis.

    When a cancer patient runs out of financial resources, they are at risk of financial toxicity. This is when patients cannot fully benefit from their treatment plan because they are too stressed out and they cannot afford to fill all their prescriptions.

    Careful financial planning is vital to the health and happiness of a mesothelioma patient and their family.

    Quick Fact:

    Total annual cost of copays, coinsurance, deductibles and insurance premiums for average lung cancer patient: $5,000 to $10,000

    Source: American Cancer Society, 2016

    Get Help Finding Compensation for Mesothelioma Expenses

    We can help you get compensation through grants, trust funds and more to help pay for mesothelioma treatment and other expenses.

    See If You Qualify

    How to Pay for Mesothelioma Treatment

    To help pay for mesothelioma treatment and related expenses, patients should investigate government programs, charity resources, clinical trials and the possibility of filing a legal claim for compensation.

    Did You Know?

    The average cost of mesothelioma treatment is $11,000 to $12,000 a month. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help you and your family get money to cover treatment costs, travel expenses and more.

    Learn how to choose a mesothelioma lawyer

    Government Assistance

    If you are younger than retirement age but unable to keep working, you may be able to receive monthly income through Social Security Disability Insurance. If you are over retirement age and you have very low income, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income.

    If you are a U.S. veteran, you may be eligible for low-cost cancer treatment through the VA medical system. If your mesothelioma diagnosis resulted from military asbestos exposure, you can file to receive VA disability benefits and fully covered health care.

    Charities

    Many hospitals, companies and nonprofit groups provide financial assistance to lower the cost of treatment or provide free travel and lodging for patients who have to go to a faraway medical center. A hospital social worker or mesothelioma patient advocate can help you find these resources.

    Clinical Trials

    Sometimes patients can receive free treatment by participating in clinical trials of experimental therapies. Not every mesothelioma patient qualifies for clinical trials, but it is always worth it to research what clinical trials are currently recruiting.

    Legal Compensation

    Mesothelioma is almost entirely preventable. Most cases trace back to asbestos exposure caused by a company’s negligence, so it is not fair that patients should have to shoulder the burden of paying for cancer treatment.

    An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help you evaluate your options for seeking legal compensation. In case you decide to file a legal claim, make sure you keep track of all your insurance claims and out-of-pocket expenses. These records can help you build your case later.

    Get the Best Treatment Options

    Find a Doctor

    Get a Free Mesothelioma Treatment Guide

    Get Yours Now

    Get Help Finding a Top Mesothelioma Attorney

    Get Help Now

    Daniel King

    Writer

    Daniel King joined Asbestos.com in 2017. He comes from a military family and attended high school on an Air Force base in Japan, so he feels a close connection to veterans, military families and the many hardships they face. As an investigative writer with interests in mesothelioma research and environmental issues, he seeks to educate others about the dangers of asbestos exposure to protect them from the deadly carcinogen. Daniel holds several certificates in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and he is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

    Edited by Walter Pacheco

    7 Cited Article Sources

    The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.

    What about this article isn’t helpful for you?

    Thank you for your feedback. Would you like to speak with a Patient Advocate?

    General cancer information

    Whether you have chemotherapy as part of your treatment depends on what type of cancer you have, how big it is and whether it has spread or not.

    Doctors use chemotherapy because it circulates throughout the body in the bloodstream. So it can treat cancer almost anywhere in the body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.

    Surgery only removes the cancer from the area it is in the body. And radiotherapy only treats the area of the body it is aimed at. These are local treatments.

    You might have chemotherapy:

    • to shrink a cancer before surgery or radiotherapy
    • to try to stop cancer coming back after surgery or radiotherapy
    • as a treatment on its own, if your type of cancer is very sensitive to it
    • to treat cancer that has spread from where it first started

    Before surgery or radiotherapy

    The aim of chemotherapy before surgery is to shrink a tumour so that you need less surgery, or to make it easier to get all the cancer out. Shrinking the cancer with chemotherapy might also mean that you can have radiotherapy to a smaller area of your body.

    Having chemotherapy before other treatments in this way is called neoadjuvant treatment. Sometimes doctors may call it primary treatment.

    After surgery or radiotherapy

    The aim of chemotherapy after surgery or radiotherapy is to lower the risk of the cancer coming back in the future. This is called adjuvant treatment.

    The chemotherapy circulates throughout your body and kills off any cancer cells that have broken away from the main tumour before your operation.

    For blood cancer

    You might have chemotherapy as a treatment on its own, without surgery. This is for types of cancer that are very sensitive to chemotherapy, such as blood cancer.

    For cancer that has spread

    Your doctor might suggest chemotherapy if there is a chance that your cancer might spread in the future. Or if it has already spread.

    Sometimes cancer cells break away from a tumour. They may travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

    The cells may settle in other parts of the body and develop into new tumours. These are called secondary cancers or metastases. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body to treat any cancer cells that have spread.

    With radiotherapy

    Sometimes doctors prescribe chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiation. It can make the radiotherapy more effective, but can also increase side effects.

    Chemotherapy drugs

    The chemotherapy drugs you have depend on where in your body the cancer started (your type of cancer). This is because different chemotherapy drugs work on different types of cancer.

    So the drugs you need for a cancer that started in the breast and has spread to the lung might be different to the drugs you would have for a cancer that started in the lung.

    Why chemotherapy might not be suitable for you

    Some cancers are very sensitive to chemotherapy. So it can work very well for them.

    But some types of cancer don’t tend to respond well to chemotherapy. In that case, your doctor isn’t likely to suggest it as a treatment for you.

    Chemotherapy can be a difficult treatment to have, and you need to be well enough to have it. Some people worry they may be too old to have chemotherapy.

    No one is automatically too old. But older people may have other health issues that make them more likely to get severe or long term side effects.

    Some treatments can put a strain on organs such as the heart. Doctors make sure you are fit enough by checking your heart, lungs, kidneys and liver before starting treatment.

    They look at the benefits and risks of any treatment when deciding your treatment plan, and will discuss this with you.

    It is normal to feel worried or overwhelmed when you find out that you will be having chemotherapy. The information in this article can help you prepare for your first treatment.

    Your chemotherapy team

    If you need chemotherapy, a team of highly trained medical professionals will work together to give you the best possible care. Your team may include the following people:

    Medical oncologist. This is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medication. Your oncologist works with other team members to make your treatment plan. He or she is also in charge of your chemotherapy treatments.

    Oncology nurse. An oncology nurse cares for people with cancer, including giving chemotherapy. He or she answers questions and helps support you and your family. Your nurse also helps keep track of your health during treatment. This can include managing any side effects.

    Other health care professionals. Other team members include pharmacists, social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists, and dentists. Learn more about the oncology team.

    Before you start chemotherapy

    You can expect these steps before beginning treatment:

    Meeting with your oncologist. Before you start chemotherapy, you will meet with your medical oncologist. He or she will review your medical records and do a physical examination. You will also have tests done to help plan treatment. Your exact treatment depends on:

    • The type, size, and location of the cancer

    • Your age

    • Your general health

    • Other factors that are different for each person

    Most chemotherapy treatments are given in repeating cycles. The length of a cycle depends on the treatment being given. Most cycles range from 2 to 6 weeks. The number of treatment doses scheduled within each cycle also varies depending on the drugs being given.

    For example, each cycle may contain only 1 treatment on the first day. Or, a cycle may contain more than 1 dose given weekly or daily. After completing 2 cycles, a re-evaluation is often done to make sure the treatment is working. Most people have several cycles of chemotherapy. Or the treatment cycles may continue for as long as the chemotherapy works well.

    Giving permission for chemotherapy. Your doctor will talk with you about the risks and benefits of chemotherapy. If you choose to have it, your team will ask you to sign an informed consent form. Signing the form means:

    • You give written permission for treatment

    • Your team gave you information on your treatment options

    • You choose to have chemotherapy

    • You understand that the treatment is not guaranteed to give the intended results

    Eating food and taking medicines with chemotherapy. Your team will tell you what to eat, drink, or avoid on chemotherapy days so the treatment will work best. Tell your doctor about any prescription and non-prescription medicines you take. This includes vitamins and other supplements, such as herbs.

    Questions to ask before chemotherapy starts

    It is a good idea to ask questions before treatment starts. These may include:

    • Learning more about the schedule and side effects of your specific treatment

    • Getting after-hours contact numbers for your doctor or nurse

    • Where you will receive treatment, such as the specific building and floor

    Find a list of questions to ask your health care team.

    Planning for your chemotherapy treatments

    Preparing for side effects. Depending on the most common side effects of your chemotherapy, your doctor may recommend planning for nausea and vomiting, hair loss, reproductive issues, and other side effects.

    An important part of cancer care is relieving side effects. This is called palliative care or supportive care. It is important to talk with your health care team about the specific side effects you experience and the best ways to manage and treat them. Learn more about the side effects of chemotherapy.

    Getting help with finances and work. Before chemotherapy starts, you may want to:

    • Contact organizations that can provide financial assistance. This could be important if your insurance does not cover the whole cost of treatment.

    • Talk with your employer to arrange time off work for treatment and recovery.

    During treatment

    Chemotherapy can be given through a needle into a vein. This is called intravenous or IV chemotherapy. It can also be available through pills that you take by mouth. This is called oral chemotherapy. Or, it can be given as a medication you put on your skin, called topical chemotherapy. Learn more about how chemotherapy is given.

    Your first treatment

    You may want to bring a friend or family member on your first day of treatment. This person can support you and help you remember information. You may also bring items, such as your phone, a tablet, books, or a blanket, to make your treatment time more comfortable.

    Before your IV chemotherapy starts, you will:

    • Have a blood sample taken

    • Meet with your oncologist. He or she will check your health and the results of your blood tests and order the chemotherapy

    • Meet the nurse or other health professionals who will give it

    • Have a short physical exam to check your blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and temperature

    • Have your height and weight measured to find the right doses of chemotherapy

    • Have an IV tube put in your arm

    Receiving chemotherapy through a port

    Before your first appointment, you might have minor surgery to put in a port. This is a round metal or plastic disk that the IV goes in during treatment. With a port, your nurse does not need to find a vein to put the IV in for every treatment. Learn more about catheters and ports.

    How long does IV chemotherapy take?

    Your IV chemotherapy can take minutes, hours, or several days if you have continuous infusion chemotherapy. You do not need to stay at the hospital or clinic for continuous infusion. The nurse will give you medication to prevent side effects such as nausea or possible allergic reactions. Then you get your chemotherapy medications.

    To get the full benefit of chemotherapy, it is important to follow the schedule of treatments recommended by your doctor.

    After your IV chemotherapy

    After your treatment is finished, the nurse or another team member will take out your IV. If you have a port, it will stay until you finish all of your treatments. The nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and temperature again.

    Your oncologist or nurse will also talk with you about side effects. They will give you medication, tips to manage side effects, and other tips. For example, they may tell you to:

    • Avoid being around people with colds or other infections. Chemotherapy weakens your body’s immune system, which helps fight infections.

    • Drink lots of fluids for 48 hours after chemotherapy. This helps move the drugs through your body.

    Your health care team can tell you what activities to do or avoid on treatment days.

    Before you leave your first treatment, ask who you should call with any questions or concerns and get their phone number.

    When to Call the Doctor During Cancer Treatment

    Making Decisions About Cancer Treatment

    Chemocare.com: Preparing for Chemo Treatments

    National Cancer Institute: Chemotherapy to Treat Cancer

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