How Much Does Breast Cancer Treatment Cost? According To New Study, Chemotherapy And Surgery Costs Vary Wildly

Breast cancer treatment costs can vary wildly in the United States, claims a recently concluded study.

Chemotherapy and mastectomy surgery expenses incurred while treating breast cancer aren’t standard across the country, and they keep varying wildly across medical facilities and in different regions, revealed a study by researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The variation puts a lot of burden on patients, the government, as well as insurance companies because of the illogical variation in prices for breast cancer treatment in the United States.

The findings, published today online on CANCER, are the first ones to be presented after the 2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago. Surprisingly, the researchers found no justification to the cost of breast cancer treatment options, and furthermore, the costs had no correlation whatsoever with the efficacy of the procedures. Speaking about the research, lead author Sharon Giordano, M.D., chair of Health Services Research and professor of Breast Medical Oncology said this.

“The costs of cancer care have been increasing dramatically, both for the health care system and for patients. As physicians, we increasingly recognize the financial burden on our patients. Both physicians and patients need greater access to information about the treatment costs so this critical issue can be discussed during a patient’s decision-making process.”

In order to try to come up with a standardized treatment plan and evaluate a generalized tariff, researchers analyzed claims from the MarketScan database of 14,643 adult women diagnosed with breast cancer. Each woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer had undergone treatment between 2008 and 2012 in the U.S.


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Furthermore, the study weeded out anomalies and statistical errors by specifying multiple qualification criteria. The patients had to have a full insurance coverage from six months prior to 18 months after diagnosis. The women had to undergo chemotherapy sessions within three months of diagnosis. Additionally, the women who had secondary malignancy within one year of diagnosis were excluded.

After analyzing the data, researchers concluded adjusted average total and out-of-pocket cost using all claims within 18 months of diagnoses was roughly $2,000. But shockingly, the research team found expenses across a single class of drugs varied wildly, and in some cases, by as much as $46,000, reported Science Magazine.

The researchers limited their scope of study on a younger population who had access to private insurance. Patients, who did not have the privilege, are likely to face a much heavier financial burden. The researchers didn’t even consider the newer therapies that usually cost a lot more than standardized treatment options. Additionally, the researchers chose to ignore cancer stage, patient race or ethnicity, or tumor characteristics, perhaps to simplify the data analysis.

The research matters because according to the American Cancer Society, each year, close to 250,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer, are diagnosed in the United States alone. Since there are no standardized tariffs or treatment costs, it is very difficult for insurance companies to offer plans with lower premiums. Additionally, the variation in treatment costs puts a lot of pressure on government healthcare budgets. But the most concerning aspect is the treatment cost has no correlation with the effectiveness of the procedures.

According to Giordano, the wildly varying and escalating treatment costs routinely discourage patients from continuing treatment or seek routine confirmatory tests that ensure the patient is cancer free. The researcher chose to investigate because she wanted to check if f there was an easy way for patients and their doctors to pick the least expensive treatment that would still be effective, reported NBC News.

[Featured Image by D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images]