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Key Statistics on Chemotherapy Treatment, Costs and Survival (2020)

Chemotherapy is just one element in a course of treatment that can include surgery, radiation therapy and other treatments specific to your cancer’s stage and type.

It’s important to keep these things in mind as you read the chemotherapy statistics broken down below. While these percentages can help you get a better understanding of chemotherapy, remember that no one statistic can represent a full diagnostic picture. Your No. 1 trusted source should always be your doctor.

Even when the statistics appear dire, your individual prognosis may turn out to be very optimistic – and maintaining a resilient attitude is key to any patient’s long-term health.

Chemotherapy Treatment Statistics

Chemotherapy equipment and medicine

Whether or not a patient will receive chemotherapy depends heavily on what type of cancer they have and what stage it is in.

The American Cancer Society collects data on cancer patients and their treatments, and reports data on treatment patterns for select cancer types. Below are the chemotherapy treatment rates for the select cancers included in the ACS 2019-2021 Cancer Treatment and Survivorship report.

Chemotherapy Treatment Rates by Cancer Type and Stage
Cancer Type Stage 0 Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Bladder 33% 50% 55% 61% 60%
Breast 17% † 62% 66%
Colon 9% † 66% 65%
Rectal 34% 79% 78%
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer 18% 67% 53%
Testicular Cancer: Seminomatous Tumor 17% 65% 86% (none reported)
Testicular Cancer: Nonseminomatous Tumor 36% 84% 93% (none reported)
Uterus 26% 70% 75% 73%

† Breast stages 1 and 2, colon stages 1 and 2, rectal stages 2 and 3 and non-small cell lung cancer stages 1 and 2.

Cost of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy costs vary widely depending on the type and stage of your cancer, whether you’re insured and what type of insurance coverage you have. Costs vary across types of chemotherapy drugs as well. Chemotherapy can be administered in a number of different ways, from pills to intravenous injection.

The final complicating factor is that chemotherapy is rarely the only course of treatment a patient receives, so financial data is usually reported as “cost of treatment” rather than cost of chemotherapy specifically.

The National Cancer Institute published estimated cancer treatment costs for 2020 across all patients. These costs are cumulative and are separated into three categories: initial (first year after diagnosis), the period between (continuing) and last year of life.

Estimated Cancer Treatment Costs by Cancer Type
Initial Continuing Last
All Cancers $57,497 $73,034 $57,212
Bladder $1,471 $2,747 $1,620
Breast $8,153 $10,596 $5,643
Cervix $595 $430 $810
Colorectal $8,603 $5,842 $6,272
Head and Neck $1,524 $1,441 $2,200
Esophagus $844 $258 $995
Kidney $1,656 $2,632 $1,798
Leukemia $1,101 $3,252 $3,914
Lung $7,601 $2,678 $7,254
Lymphoma $4,411 $7,383 $6,367
Melanoma $681 $2,588 $489
Ovary $1,842 $2,328 $3,007
Pancreas $2,067 $180 $1,126
Prostate $7,159 $10,484 $1,804
Stomach $1,220 $346 $1,125
Uterus $1,522 $1,079 $1,033

Costs ($) per year in millions

If you, like many Americans with cancer, are concerned about the financial impact your treatment may have, consider exploring financial aid opportunities to help ease the monetary burden of your care.

Chemotherapy Survival Statistics

Man receiving chemotherapy while speaking to a doctor

Because chemotherapy is usually administered in combination with other treatments such as radiotherapy, immunotherapy or surgery, it’s not possible to isolate the survivorship rate of chemotherapy specifically.

However, we can look at the survivorship rates of different cancers in combination with the statistics above to get a general picture of survival among patients with cancers that are frequently treated using chemotherapy.

Here are the survivorship statistics for cancers selected by the American Cancer Society for the 2019-2021 Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & Figures report.

Bladder Cancer

The five-year survival rate for urinary bladder cancer is 77%. Uniquely, urinary bladder cancers can be diagnosed at a “stage 0” phase, which is a non-muscle invasive form of the disease that is present only in the very inner layers of the bladder cells. About half (47%) of urinary bladder cancers are diagnosed at stage 0, and the five-year survival rate for these cases is 95%.

Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy is more commonly a part of the course of treatment for breast cancers diagnosed in middle or late stages. The overall five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 90%.

Among those diagnosed in stage 1, the five-year survival rate is near 100%. It declines proportionally the later it is diagnosed, with the five-year survival rate for breast cancer patients diagnosed in stage 4 at 26%.

Colorectal Cancers

Patients with colorectal cancers who are diagnosed in stages 1 and 2 are typically treated with surgery, while chemotherapy is more commonly included in the course of treatment for those diagnosed in stages 3 and 4.

The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancers is 68% for patients diagnosed in stage 3 and 12% for patients diagnosed in stage 4.

Lung Cancer

About 13% of lung cancer cases are classified as small cell lung cancers, for which the main treatment is chemotherapy. Non-small cell lung cancer patients who are diagnosed in earlier stages are typically treated with surgery, while 63% of stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer patients undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Overall, the five-year survival rate for all lung cancers is 19%. The five-year survival rate is 6% for small cell lung cancer and 23% for non-small cell lung cancer. However, this is due in large part to the fact that only about one in five lung cancer cases are diagnosed in stage 1 of the disease. Of those cases, the five-year survival rate is a much more optimistic 57%.

Prostate Cancer

It is rare for prostate cancer to require chemotherapy except in higher-risk, advanced cases. The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer overall is 99%.

Testicular Cancer

Testicular germ cell tumors are categorized by cell type: 55% are seminomas, 13% are nonseminomas and 28% are mixed (mixed cases are treated like nonseminomatous cases). Almost all treatments for testicular cancer begin with surgery.

Most stage 1 seminomas (71%) are treated with surgery only, while 60% of stage 2 seminomas and 67% of stage 3 seminomas are treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy.

Among patients with nonseminomatous testicular germ cell tumors, 57% of stage 1 patients are treated with surgery alone. Half of stage 2 nonseminomatous patients receive chemotherapy following surgery, and an additional 31% receive a combination of chemotherapy and retroperitoneal lymph node dissection. The majority of stage 3 nonseminomas are treated with chemotherapy — 56% with surgery and chemotherapy only, 18% with a combination of chemotherapy and retroperitoneal lymph node dissection after surgery, and 19% with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy alone.

The overall five-year survival rate for all testicular cancers is 99%. The prognosis for nonseminomas is slightly lower at 90% compared to 94% for mixed cases and 99% for seminomas.

Thyroid

Chemotherapy is rarely required to successfully treat thyroid cancer. About 97% of thyroid cancers are papillary or follicular carcinomas, which are typically curable with radioactive iodine treatment.

The remaining 3% are medullary or anaplastic carcinomas, which can be more difficult to treat. Total thyroid removal is the standard treatment for medullary carcinomas, but chemotherapy may be offered in cases that cannot be treated with surgery. Anaplastic carcinomas are often widespread by the time of diagnosis, so chemotherapy or radiation therapy are more frequent options.

The overall five-year survival rate for thyroid cancers is 98%. The survival rate for those diagnosed in stages 1-3 is near 100% and about 71% for stage 4.

The five-year survival rate is 90% for medullary carcinoma and 7% for anaplastic carcinoma.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Three cancer patients experiencing side effects of chemotherapy treatment

Chemotherapy side effects can range from mild to severe and can take several forms. The likelihood of experiencing side effects depends on the specific chemotherapy drugs you’re taking. Check with your doctor to see how likely side effects are and how you might alleviate or treat them.

  • Researchers estimate that about 65% of chemotherapy patients overall experience hair loss, though that number varies according to the type and number of chemotherapy drugs the patient receives.

  • Nausea and vomiting occurs in up to 80% of chemotherapy patients, according to the National Cancer Institute.

  • Diarrhea is a common chemotherapy side effect, but the likelihood and severity of this side effect ranges widely depending on the specific drugs administered. According to a 2020 report by doctors at Case Western Reserve University:

    • Severe diarrhea occurs in between 5% and 44% of patients on cytotoxic drugs such as fluoropyrimidines and irinotecan.

    • Between 75% and 95% of patients on tyrosine kinase inhibitors such as ceritinib, neratinib and afatinib experience diarrhea, but only 2% to 16% of these patients report diarrhea that is severe.

    • When administered alone, monoclonal antibodies rarely cause severe diarrhea. When combined with cytotoxic chemotherapy, monoclonal antibodies can intensify side effects.

  • The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that 40% of chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients develop mucositis, or inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth. Mucositis can range from mild redness to mouth sores.

  • Between 30% and 40% of neurotoxic chemotherapy recipients develop nerve pain (chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy, or CIPN) as a side effect of chemotherapy. However, CIPN is treatable and in some cases reversible with treatment.

  • Chemotherapy can impact fertility in both men and women. However, a 2016 study at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital tracked children who were diagnosed with cancers between 1970 and 1999 and found that adults who received chemotherapy as children may have more optimistic fertility outcomes.

    • The study found that 45% of women who’d had cancer as children had given birth to children of their own by the year 2016, compared to 80% of cancer-free women.

    • Among men who survived cancer as children, 50% reported they’d gotten a partner pregnant by age 45, compared to 80% of the cancer-free control group.

Chemotherapy is a daunting experience that can be a physical, mental and financial challenge. Thankfully, it’s frequently a lifesaver that adds years to patients’ lives or eliminates their cancer completely. Learning all you can about your treatment will help you be as prepared as possible for your chemotherapy experience.

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Last Modified October 29, 2020

Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

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