The Average Cost of Chemotherapy

chemo treatment NCI.jpg

Is there such a thing as an average cost of chemotherapy?

No. Not even close.

In order for there to be an average cost of chemotherapy, one would need an 'average' cancer diagnosis. Every cancer diagnosed everywhere every day in the world is a unique, heterogeneous disease.

Put another way, no two cancers are exactly alike.

Just like no two hospital bills are exactly alike, even for the same procedures.

Therefore it's hardly surprising that, after a cursory search of the internet, the most interesting and likely most accurate estimate of the average cost of chemotherapy comes from a site called costhelper.com, which offers the following average for patients who are not covered by insurance:

Between $10,000 and $200,000.

That would be funny if it weren't so criminally hideous.

Factors That Determine Cost in Chemotherapy Treatment

There are so many factors to consider when determining what might be the average cost of chemotherapy, it's almost overwhelming:

What Kind of Cancer is Diagnosed

This is the most important determining factor, since clinical practice guidelines for cancers vary widely. People diagnosed with a cutaneous lymphoma may only pay a couple hundred dollars for a topical chemotherapy cream, while those diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia might pay $4,000 every month until the drug that treats CML comes off patent and is available in generic form, at which time cost could drop by 90 percent.

The issue comes down to whether or not the most commonly used drugs to treat cancer X or cancer Y are available in generic form, or if they are not yet off patent.


Read More: Learn about the Rituxan Retirement Plan, an inside joke among doctors.

Where Treatment is Administered

The chemotherapy drugs administered for anticancer treatments originated at the manufacturing facilities of pharmaceutical companies. The facility administering treatment had to first purchase the chemotherapy drugs from the manufacturer, a cost they will pass on to the patient.

At for-profit medical facilities, such as private practices, or medical centers like the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, patients should expect to pay a so-called 'chemotherapy concession'. This is the amount that the facility has added to the wholesale cost of the drug; it could be four percent or forty percent. You'll probably never know, and finding out would consume more time than it's probably worth.

What Complications Are Experienced

You simply can't estimate the cost of chemotherapy without including the costs of the treatments needed for the additional ailments caused by the administration of chemotherapy. This self-feeding industry is such that adverse events from treatment require their own treatments—this might include a dangerous depletion of white blood cells, which could lead to febrile neutropenia, a life-threatening condition that requires a white blood cell booster such as Neulasta. Each injection of Neulasta can cost at least $3,000.

Don't Forget All Those Other Charges

If a patient has insurance, the average cost of chemotherapy does come down considerably. But all patients will be confronted with out-of-pocket costs that they could never have even dreamed of planning for: transportation and meal costs to and from treatment; lab fees; IV administration fees; costs for all the equipment used on you; blood tests; bone scans; MRIs; CT scans; office visit co-pays; money spent on books to cope with chemotherapy; follow-up visits; costs of anti-nausea medications to hold back the urge to vomit from chemotherapy; and on and on and on.

The Sad Conclusion

As Alison Rose Levy wrote for takepart.com last year, treating cancer is a profitable business.

Not for nothing is cancer now considered a risk factor for personal bankruptcy.

In sum, the average cost of chemotherapy is equal to a sum of money the thundering majority of us neither have in the bank nor have any access to. It reminds me of a quote from oncologist Dr. Doug Reding, who, in discussing legislation that would make oral chemotherapy more available to patients, posed the following question in the Wausau Daily Herald back in 2011:

"Why design a cure people can't afford?"

Good question.

LymphomaInfo Social