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How Much Does Chemotherapy Cost?

March 8, 2016
Health, Medical Costs
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If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you may be worried about how much your chemotherapy treatment will cost and how to deal with all the bills.

Treating cancer isn’t cheap, and chemotherapy — which uses strong drugs to destroy or slow the growth of cancerous cells — is one of the most expensive parts of treatment. Other cancer care costs can include doctor and clinic visits, imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs, radiation treatments, hospital stays, surgery and home care.

Here’s what you might expect to pay for treatment, plus some ways to help manage the costs.

How much do cancer drugs cost?

The costs you pay for chemotherapy will vary depending on the type of cancer being treated, the drugs and where you buy them, where you are treated, your health insurance, and how often and how long you’ll need treatment.

Patients typically can get chemotherapy in a hospital outpatient department, clinic or physician’s office. Chemotherapy treatment in a hospital outpatient department costs an average of 24% more than treatment in a physician’s office, according to a study by Avalere Health.

However, the biggest factors in the cost of chemotherapy are the type of cancer being treated and the drugs being used.

Brain cancers cost the most to treat, an average of more than $108,000 in the first year after a diagnosis in women and more than $115,000 for men, according to the National Cancer Institute. By contrast, treating melanoma, a skin cancer, costs an average of $5,000 for women and $5,400 for men in the first year after diagnosis. These figures include total costs of treatment, not just the drugs.

The cost of cancer drugs can range from as little as $100 a month to as much as $65,000 a month for some newer medications, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Find help paying for your cancer treatment

If you have health insurance, it’ll cover a portion of your chemotherapy drugs and services, but how much depends on your health plan.

Medicare, the national insurance program for the elderly and those with certain conditions, covers chemotherapy for cancer patients who spend at least one night in the hospital, outpatients and patients in a doctor’s office or clinic. You’ll have to pay a copay as a hospital outpatient and 20% of the Medicare-approved amount if you get treatment in a doctor’s office or clinic, according to

Federal and state programs may be able to provide financial assistance to people with cancer. The American Cancer Society has information on covering the costs of cancer treatment. 

You might also consider starting a fundraiser on a crowdfunding site like GiveForward or YouCaring, so that friends, family and others can help with your bills.

You also may be able to apply for Social Security disability benefits, which are paid to people who can’t work because of a medical condition expected to last at least a year or result in death. Visit the website to apply for benefits or call 800-772-1212.

Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @LacieWrites.

Photo via Shutterstock.