High Cost of Cancer Treatment
Life-saving surgeries and the latest therapies are extending the lives of cancer patients — but only those who can afford them.
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As cancer survival rates rise, so do the price tags of life-saving treatments. Monthly drugs costs may reach $100,000, causing many Americans to struggle with the physical and emotional effects of high out-of-pocket medical costs. Even worse, others are completely priced out of the hope for a cure.
Low-income families, Americans who are uninsured or underinsured, and blue-collar workers who face medical bills more than four times their annual salaries cannot afford the rising costs of cancer treatments.
US Cancer Epidemic at a Glance
1,806,590 estimated new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2020.
60% of cancer patients are 65 and older.
2nd leading cause of death in US is cancer behind heart disease.
40.1% probability men in U.S. will face an invasive cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.
606,520 are expected to die from cancer in 2020.
$150.8 billion were spent nationally for cancer care in 2018.
Missy Miller Medical Outreach Director at The Mesothelioma Center
“People often only think up to surgery, but post-operative care is where the higher costs are. Dealing with complications and covering costs of scans, home care and follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy is when it gets really expensive.”
In the fourth fiscal quarter of 2018, the weekly median income for a full-time wage or salary worker was $900, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even with a typical employer-sponsored health insurance plan, a patient with 25% coinsurance would have monthly out-of-pocket costs of $2,500 for a cancer drug that costs $10,000 each month. That’s nearly 70% of the average American’s monthly income.
Lifetime Health Care Costs for Prevalent and Preventable Cancers
Treatment costs are highest among preventable cancers, including lung cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer and mesothelioma. Research shows most cancers are preventable. The lifestyle choices we make, the foods we eat, and our physical activity levels impact our cancer risk.
Estimated Yearly Out-of-Pocket Spending
Nearly 20% of cancer patients and their loved ones surveyed by The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com estimated that they spent more than $20,000 each year in total out-of-pocket costs.
Cancer Expenses That Hurt Financial Situation
Treatments themselves are not the only factor in cancer costs. Nearly 50% of cancer patients surveyed said travel expenses related to treatment hurt their financial situation.
Hardships Experienced Because of Out-of-Pocket Costs
Forty percent of cancer patients surveyed had difficulties paying medical bills, while 12% lowered the dose of prescription drugs to make them last longer.
Five Facts About Cancer Costs
Some cancer patients may face out-of-pocket costs of nearly $12,000 a year for one drug.
In 2014, cancer patients paid $4 billion out-of-pocket for cancer treatment.
Newly approved cancer drugs cost an average of $10,000 per month, with some as high as $30,000 per month. Just over a decade ago, the average was $4,500.
11 of the 12 cancer drugs the FDA approved in 2012 were priced above $100,000 per year.
Cancer patients are 2 1/2 times more likely to declare bankruptcy as healthy people.
How Do Other Conditions Stack Up in Price?
At an average total of $150,000, cancer treatment costs are more than four times higher than treatment for other common health conditions.
Most Expensive Cancer Drugs
Four of the five most expensive cancer drugs on the U.S. market are types of immunotherapies, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Drug Pricing Lab.
Several of these drugs cost nearly as much or more per month than the average American makes in a year, which is $46,800, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Common and Costly Chemotherapy Drugs
Chemotherapy is one of the most common cancer treatments. Depending on the drug and type of cancer it treats, the average monthly cost of chemo drugs can range from $1,000 to $12,000.
If a cancer patient requires four chemo sessions a year, it could cost them up to $48,000 total, which is beyond the average annual income. Even after premiums and deductibles of health insurance are met, this person could be responsible for more than $10,000 a year in out-of-pocket costs with coinsurance.
Large Cost Variations for Radiation Therapy
A study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice shows the large reimbursement variations in Medicare for radiation therapy in cancer care. The study analyzed 55,288 patients with breast, lung and prostate cancer who were treated with radiotherapy.
The findings show the significant cost differences for radiation are largely unrelated to patient or disease factors and based more on geography and rates of individual providers.
The Uninsured or Underinsured
Many people struggle to pay rising health insurance premiums and copays, or they can’t reach high deductibles before insurance coverage begins.
According to the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, 23% of U.S. adults ages 19-64 were “underinsured” in 2018, meaning their out-of-pocket health care costs, excluding premiums, equaled 10% or more of their yearly income.
More than 44 million Americans remain underinsured because of high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles. Another 28 million were uninsured in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority of the uninsured were men ages 19 to 64 with less than a high school education, lower incomes or both.
In 2017, uninsured nonelderly adults were more than twice as likely as their insured counterparts to have had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months.
Blue-collar workers are often exposed to carcinogens at the workplace.
Traditional blue-collar jobs represent a small portion of the U.S. labor force today, according to a 2018 report from Demos, a policy research think tank. Only 8% of the working class, or about 8 million workers, holds jobs in the manufacturing sector.
Annual mean wages for the top blue-collar jobs was around $50,000 in 2018, according to Forbes. That’s less than the monthly cost of some cancer drugs.
Fast Facts About Blue-Collar Workers
Mesothelioma Disproportionately Affects Blue-Collar Workers
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused almost exclusively by occupational exposure to asbestos — 85% to 90% of cases — making it the No. 1 occupational cancer in the world.
The cancer carries a long latency period, often developing decades after workers were initially exposed to asbestos. Many mesothelioma patients are diagnosed after retiring from blue-collar jobs and now must pay out-of-pocket treatment costs on fixed incomes.
The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com examined 360 confirmed cases of mesothelioma among blue-collar workers who were diagnosed since 2002.
Higher Risk of Occupational Cancer
Blue-collar jobs put Americans more at risk of developing occupational cancers, or cancers caused by exposures to carcinogens in the workplace.
The World Health Organization and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recognize nine main occupational cancers.
Top Occupational Cancers in the US
|Cancer||Percentage of cases related to occupation||Occupations affected|
|Mesothelioma||85% to 95%||Construction, Navy veterans, industrial workers, firefighters, power plant workers|
|Sinonasal and nasopharyngeal cancer (nose)||33% to 46%||Boot and shoe manufacturing and repair, carpenters|
|Bladder cancer||7% to 19%||Cable makers, synthetic latex production, industrial workers who manufacture magenta, auramine, p-chloro-o-toluidine, pigment chromate, and dyes; gas-retort house workers|
|Lung cancer||6.3% to 13%||Production and refining of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, aluminum and chromium; mining of uranium, copper smelting, iron and steel founding, vineyard workers, roofers, asphalt workers, painters|
|Laryngeal cancer||1.5% to 20%||Pickling operations|