How Much Does Cancer Cost?
Several people have asked me this and my initital response is, “I have insurance. How should I know?” Well, that got me thinking, so I looked it up and the answer is…
The retail cost of my first month of treatment was $49,975.
Of course, no-one pays retail for health care, at least in Massachusetts, so I really have no idea what this big number means.
This amount is based on the claims received by my HMO for that time period. It does not include anything performed before my diagnosis was made, nor my current outpatient needs like prescriptions, wig (er, prosthesis), and all new personal care products. Yes, goodbye expensive night cream. You’ll probably expire before I can use you again.
So, what did this $50K buy exactly?
To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m enrolled in a clinical trial which means that anything outside of the normal course of care they need to do for the trial should be free, but I’m not really sure how that works. In fact, I find it kind of horrifying, being someone that crunches numbers all day, I don’t have a better understanding of medical billing. I guess that’s why it’s an entire profession. Anyway, my insurance company pays wholesale, of course, so the amount they paid overall was about a third of that amount billed to them. All things considered, I had a lot of stuff done for $16,650.
The only thing that horrified me looking at my statements was that one third of the retail cost of my AC chemo day, including the bloodwork, and doctor visit, is one drug and it’s not an actual chemo drug either. It’s an anti-nausea drug that I take over the course of three days (it WAS itemized). If you add in the other pre-chemo anti-nausea IV drug, the second most-expensive single item on the claim, the number goes up to 44% of the total retail cost of the day.
The stuff WORKS, but boy is it expensive!
My insurance pays full price for those, so I guess this gets to the heart of prescription drug reform in the U.S. It probably cost the drug companies millions of dollars to develop those drugs and they need to recoup their costs somehow. The question is at what point does this cost just become ludicrous?
Apparently not at $550 a pill.
Silver Lining: It’s not all going to my oncologistMedical doctor interested in the diagnosis, therapy, and palliative care of cancer patients. In this blog, it pertains to the doctor responsible for my plan of care.
’s Lexus after all. If it were, he’d probably have a Bugatti from me by the time this is over.
Anyway, if you’re curious, here are the services I actually received in that time. Use the mouse-overs to get descriptions!
3 Rounds of Blood Work and Urine Tests
3 OncologistMedical doctor interested in the diagnosis, therapy, and palliative care of cancer patients. In this blog, it pertains to the doctor responsible for my plan of care.
2 Social Worker Visits
1 RadiologistMedical doctor interested in the use of imaging to diagnose and treat disease. In this blog it primarily refers to the various doctors responsible for reviewing and/or overseeing the imaging technician performing certain scans. Visit
1 SurgeonMedical doctor that specializes in operative procedures to diagnose and treat diseases and deformities.
1 Genetic Counseling Appointment
1 – MUGA ScanThe MUltiple Gated Acquisition, or MUGA, scan is a test that measures heart function. It is performed by attaching a radioactive tracer, Technetium 99, to a sample of the patient's red blood cells, then re-injecting the red blood cells back into the patient’s bloodstream. Movie images are then taken showing the ejection fraction of the left ventricle (LVEF) - which is the one that pumps blood out to the body. Looking at the left ventricle gives a good idea of overall heart function. Related blog post: Test Day 2: I'm Radioactive!
(for the trial so not included)
1 – CT ScanThe computed tomography, or CT, scan uses a donut-shaped X-Ray scanner to collect a series of image slices describing the internal organs and structures of the area in question. Iodine contrast is often given to enhance imaging of tumors and blood vessels.
1 – Bone Scan
1 – EKGElectrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test that translates the electrical activity of the heart into waves on paper by the use of 10 electrical contacts (leads) attached at the extremities and in the area surrounding the heart.
1 – MRIMagnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a combination of magnets and radio frequencies to create highly detailed images of the body.
2 – Core Biopsies (exclude at least one for trial)
1 – MRIMagnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a combination of magnets and radio frequencies to create highly detailed images of the body. Assisted Biopsy (plus mammograms)
Plus all of the diagnostic tests associated with the biopsies to that date.
1 – AC Chemo Treatment (including the drugs AdriamycinDoxorubicin, brand name Adriamycin, is an anthracycline antibiotic form of chemotherapy that works by structurally distorting DNA, slowing the replication of fast growing cancer cells., CytoxanCyclophosphamide, brand name Cytoxan, is an alkylating neoplastic agent form of chemotherapy developed from mustard gas. Alkylation damages the DNA of cells by attaching extra stuff to some of the nucleotides. Faster growing cancer cells are more susceptible to damage than normal healthy cells., Emend, DecadronDexamethasone, brand name Decadron, is a synthetic corticosteroid with anti-inflammatory properties. It is often used as a pre-med to reduce allergic response to chemotherapy drugs during infusion. It is also prescribed as to treat nausea associated with chemotherapy post-infusion., Aloxi)
1 – Trial Drug Only Chemo Treatment (again trial-related)
Tagged with: health care costs
One 30-something's candid account of her Stage II breast cancer treatment, featuring detailed descriptions of gross medical stuff and her neverending search for acceptable accessories.
Currently: Off-treatment and on hormone therapy
The world is a scary place. If you can't find the happy, you'll never survive.
Tagsalopecia avastin axillary node dissection breast cancer merchandising breast reconstruction breast surgery caffeine CBC chemohawk chemotherapy chemotherapy side effects Core Biopsy DIEP Flap DIEP Flap recovery effexor eyebrows Fat graft freak ghostectomy hair loss Herceptin hot flashes insomnia lumpectomy mastectomy mastectomy reconstruction Mastopexy menopause menstruation mohawk MUGA Nipple creation Nipple reconstruction radiation recap survivor mode Tamoxifen taxol telling coworkers telling friends tests tissue expander wig wire-guided lumpectomy XRT