Cancer is expensive…AF! If you have cancer, this is no news to you. But until cancer happened to me, I had no idea how expensive it truly was. I think it’s safe to say that that seeing how much it will cost to undergo treatment is almost as frightening as getting the actual cancer diagnosis. My diagnosis has definitely opened my eyes to the shocking reality of the financial burden that cancer causes for an individual and their family. The astronomical expenses that accrue from treatments, tests, surgeries, scans, integrative therapies, etc are outrageous! While there are both public and private health insurance that defray medical and drug costs, huge out-of-pocket costs can be devastating to patients and force major changes in their lives. I’ve had to make several changes and my life has been affected indefinitely due to the financial burden that cancer has caused. The financial stress it causes for people during treatment until remission alone is hard, but imagine living with cancer where the treatments, doctor visits, tests and lifestyle adjustments are ever enduring, like when you have metastatic cancer. It’s life altering… to say the least.
How Much Does Cancer Treatment Actually Cost?
This is an impossible question to answer. The cost of treatment obviously varies from individual to individual based on their diagnosis, the type of treatment they will require and the longevity of the treatment. However, the “typical” cost of breast cancer looks a little something like this according to recent studies.
“For patients covered by health insurance, out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer treatment typically consist of doctor visit, lab and prescription drug copays as well as coinsurance of 10%-50% for surgery and other procedures, which can easily reach the yearly out-of-pocket maximum. Breast cancer treatment typically is covered by health insurance, although some plans might not cover individual drugs or treatments. For patients not covered by health insurance, breast cancer treatment typically costs $15,000-$50,000 or more for a mastectomy or $17,000 to $35,000 or more for a lumpectomy followed by radiation.”
New cancer drugs are being approved at a fast pace. Numerous are approved each year and new drugs are constantly in trial and in the pipeline to be FDA approved. In the past, these drugs might cost around $10,000 for a year’s treatment. But newer studies have found that newly-approved cancer drugs carry price tags between $120,000 and $170,000! One of the drugs I take as part of my daily cocktail, is a newly FDA approved drug called Ibrance… for heavily pretreated ER+ metastatic patients. It has worked wonders for me but a month supply of this drug is over $12,000. I am blessed to have good coverage, but not all people are as fortunate.
“Depending on the individual case and the type and number of treatments needed, the total cost of breast cancer treatment, on average, can reach $100,000 — or, in advanced cases, $300,000 or more. This includes the cost of the chemotherapy drugs, additional drugs to help manage side effects, administration of the drugs and medical care for chemotherapy-related complications.”
And again, if you are anything like myself and are living with a metastatic diagnosis, treatments and care is endless with no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel.
Why is it so expensive???
The never ending list of cancer expenses looks a little something like this:
- Frequent doctor visits with surgeon, radiologist, oncologist. I personally see my oncologist once every 3 weeks and check in with my surgeon every couple of months.
- Lab Tests. This includes blood tests, urine tests and more. I get my labs done every few weeks when I see my oncologist to check my levels and tumor markers.
- Clinic visits for treatments. When I was on IV treatment I would be in the treatment center every few weeks. Currently I take an oral chemo and only have to be in the treatment clinic once every few months for my Lupron injection. But many people are in the treatment clinic, daily or weekly to get their infusions and injections.
- Procedures for diagnosis or treatment. Such procedures can include biopsies, room charges, equipment.. I’ve had a few biopsies and had to get lung taps done frequently when I had lung mets.
- Imaging Tests. These tests include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and PET scans which may mean separate bills for radiologist fees, equipment and any medicines used for the test. These tests are extremely costly too…yikes! I get PET/CT scans every 3 months, consistently for the past 6 years now.
- Radiation Treatment (implants, external radiation, or both) I have never had radiology but as we know, it’s a very common treatment for most cancers.
- Drug Costs. (inpatient, outpatient, prescription, non-prescription and procedure-related) The cost of chemotherapy drugs is crazy!
- Hospital Stays. This can encompass many types of costs such as drugs, tests and procedures as well as nursing care, doctor visits and consults with specialists. I have been admitted twice, each time for a week stay for cancer related issues.
- Surgery. Costs can accrue from surgeon, anesthesiologist, pathologist, operating room fees, equipment, medicines… I have had 3 lumpectomies and 2 other surgical procedures related to my cancer diagnosis.
- Fertility. If you are blindsided and diagnosed in your 20’s or 30’s with a cancer diagnosis and want to have a family, freezing your eggs is an option, but a costly one. You will be required to pay for tests, and medications leading up to the surgical procedure to remove your eggs. I paid about $10K out of pocket to cover the cost of freezing my eggs.
While these are examples of the clinical costs associated with cancer, there are other adjustments you may want to make that will also prove to be costly. I personally changed my diet and started to eat all organic foods and sought integrative therapies to add to my clinical regime. You can read more about the therapies I have incorporated here. All of these expenses add up and certainly are a financial strain.
But Don’t Be Too Discouraged, There’s Help.
As depressing as this all may seem (and it is), health needs to be moved to the top of your priority list when you or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer. I have adopted the mindset that you can’t put a price tag on your health and well being. But I also understand that money doesn’t just fall from the sky… but sometimes it can. Over the years I have found out about different grants and charitable organizations who help people with cancer by offering financial assistance. I wish I had personally known about some of these amazing organizations years ago myself. Here are some of the generous and compassionate organizations I have discovered that can help alleviate some of the stress and financial burden:
The Samfund: “The Samfund provides support for young adult cancer survivors in the United States as they recover from the financial impact of cancer treatment. Through direct financial assistance and free online support and education, The Samfund helps young adults move forward towards their personal, professional, and academic goals.” They are the first and largest nonprofit organization in the country that provides direct financial assistance and free online support and education to young adults, regardless of where they live or their specific cancer diagnosis.”
I myself am a grateful recipient of a Samfund grant. You can read about my experience and the support I received here. They helped me pay for some of my integrative therapies. Unfortunately their guidelines have changed and they no longer offer assistance to those who still have cancer or to those who are living with cancer, but if you are in remission and under the age of 40 and need help picking up the pieces after a cancer diagnosis, you should certainly check them out.
LIVE STRONG Fertility Program: “More than 150,000 people of reproductive age are diagnosed with cancer each year. For cancer survivors, fertility preservation can be a distressing struggle. Insurance providers often don’t cover the cost of expensive treatment and patients can be faced with starting cancer treatment right away which may impact their fertility. LIVE STRONG Fertility helps bridge this gap by offering access to discounted fertility preservation services and free medications, giving survivors the chance to build a family.”
I unfortunately didn’t know about this program and the help that was available prior to freezing my eggs or I would have certainly sought the financial assistance/support. While most fertility clinics do offer a discount to cancer patients, I still paid close to $10K to get the procedure done out of pocket. In addition, there is an annual storage fee to keep your “eggs on ice.” You can read more about my personal egg freezing journey here.
The Ellie Fund: The Ellie Fund provides essential support services for breast cancer patients to ease the stresses of everyday life, allowing the focus to be on family, recovery and healing. They provide transportation to medical appointments, childcare, housekeeping, groceries and nutritious prepared/delivered meals free of charge through their organization to relieve a patient’s burden while in treatment.
Hope for Young Adults with Cancer: Hope for Young Adults with Cancer provides direct financial support to young adults 18-40 who are currently battling cancer as well as those who have been in remission for up to 5 years after their treatment. They help pay for necessities young adults may encounter in everyday life including obligations such as rent and mortgage payments, cell phone and credit card bills, clothing, work and educational related materials along with department store and grocery gift cards. They also help with payments to medical bills, healthcare premiums, doctor visits and prescription co-pays.
Good Days: “Good Days has an unwavering commitment to patients struggling with chronic disease, cancer and other life-altering conditions.” Through their progressive assistance programs, they are able to provide the financial support for patients who cannot afford the treatments they desperately need. They help fund medication that is urgently needed and help patients find the insurance coverage that’s right for them. They also provide financial and logistical support to patients to ensure they are compliant with their treatment regimen.
Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition: The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition is a coalition of financial assistance organizations joining forces to help cancer patients experience better health and well-being by limiting financial challenges. Their site offers a searchable database of financial assistance resources based on diagnosis. There is a ton of info and resources on their site.
Nothing about getting diagnosed with cancer is easy, but you have to keep on keeping on, as hard as it may be. Knowing that there is help and relief can eliminate a little bit of the load. I hope this info helps you or someone you now affected by cancer and that you can benefit from one of these generous organizations.
Love and Healing to You,