Mesothelioma treatment is expensive, no matter how you look at it. While there are many different factors to consider – diagnosis, prognosis, overall health, age, location of tumors, cell type, where you live, health insurance coverage, etc. – at the end of it all, you will be looking at tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to these factors, additional costs, such as travel and room and board while visiting cancer centers and specialists, must be taken into consideration.
This page offers a breakdown of many of the types of costs mesothelioma patients and their families are likely to incur during their treatment, recovery, and hopefully into long-term survival. Each individual’s situation is different, and therefore, the actual costs will vary greatly from person to person. In most cases, this page offers a range within which the most common costs will fall. Please note that costs may fall outside this range – usually on the higher side, rather than the lower.
How Can I Keep Cancer-Related Medical Costs Low?
Given the high costs of cancer treatment, many people want to know how they can minimize the costs associated with their treatment. Here are a few of the most common ways:
Sometimes it is as simple as talking to your doctor, specialist, or a hospital administrator about how you can reduce your costs. In some cases, fees can be reduced or waived. Other times, they may know about special programs or funding that could provide payment for medical treatment.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, it became easier for individuals and families to get health insurance. If you do not already have insurance, getting insurance after your diagnosis can help you tremendously reduce the amount you have to pay in the long run. You will likely still have to make co-payments and pay deductibles, but at least you will not be responsible for the full amount. Also, the ACA guarantees coverage for preventative care, which could help detect cancer earlier than otherwise possible.
Some insurance companies even offer cancer insurance, a form of supplemental insurance that can help offset the costs of cancer. However, these types of insurance plans would need to be acquired (and paid for) before you have a diagnosis. Supplemental cancer insurance plans are not available to patients who have already been diagnosed.
Depending on your age and/or income level, you may be eligible for certain government health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare Part A and Part B cover certain forms of cancer treatment, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which typically limits the amount patients have to pay to 20% of the total cost. Drugs related to cancer treatment, including drugs to treat side effects, such as anti-nausea drugs, are typically covered under either Medicare Part B or Part D.
Veterans who develop mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos during their military service are eligible to have their medical bills paid for through a special program. Furthermore, they are not limited to treatment at a VA medical center.
Most asbestos exposure occurs due to negligence or other product liability claims, and so in many cases legal compensation is available for mesothelioma patients, either in the form of a settlement or payment from an asbestos trust fund. Talking with someone at an experienced, reputable law firm is the best way to see if you or your family are eligible to receive compensation that can help pay medical bills and other expenses.
Mesothelioma Common Costs Chart
The following table provides approximate ranges of common costs related to mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment. This chart does not take insurance payments or reimbursements into account.
|Mesothelioma Diagnosis & Treatment Costs||Approximate Cost Range|
|Diagnostic Imaging (CT, PET, MRI)||$800 – $1,600 per scan|
|Needle Biopsy||$500 – $700|
|Thoracoscopy or Pleuroscopy (lungs) or Laparoscopy (abdomen)||$3,600 – $5,000|
|Thoracotomy (lungs) or Laparotomy (abdomen)||$7,800 – $7,900|
|Surgery – Lobectomy/Pneumonectomy (removal of part or all of a lung)||$13,000 – $17,000|
|Radiation||$7,000 – $12,000|
|Chemotherapy – Pemetrexed (Alimta®)||$37,000 – $50,000|
|Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC)||$700 – $1,000|
IMPORTANT: These ranges are estimated using data from the FAIR Health Consumer Cost Lookup tool, Healthcare Bluebook, and other sources to determine the costs of specific procedures. They do not include the costs of additional and related procedures, such as anesthesia, preoperative preparations, or postoperative care and prescriptions.
A mesothelioma diagnosis is difficult, and the costs associated with diagnosing this disease can soar pretty quickly. In fact, because the primary way to diagnose mesothelioma includes ruling out other potential diseases, more often than not, many tests may be administered that aren’t specific to mesothelioma itself, but are for other diseases instead. Furthermore, it is often advisable to get a second opinion, which means repeating many of these same tests over and over.
For all of these reasons, diagnostic costs for mesothelioma can cause the medical bills to start piling up even before treatment begins. Below are some brief comments about the costs related to specific diagnostic tests.
There are two major factors that go into the price of imaging tests. Foremost, the specialized equipment used to make the images costs a lot of money, both for the upfront purchase and for ongoing maintenance. Secondly, because of the specialized nature of the imaging devices, well-trained technicians are required to make sure the machines are run properly and that the images themselves are interpreted appropriately.
The following list includes the types of imaging tests that may be used to diagnose mesothelioma, from least to most expensive:
- CT scans
- MRI scans
- PET scans
A patient can expect to spend between $800 – $1,600 for a single CT, MRI, or PET scan, not taking into account any insurance payments or reimbursement. However, multiple scans may need to be performed during diagnosis, which can quickly multiply the overall costs.
Biomarkers (Blood Tests)
The use of biomarkers – specialized blood tests that look for specific changes caused by the presence of cancer – are promising as ways to detect mesothelioma at an early stage. These blood tests include:
Unfortunately, because these tests are all fairly new, there is not a lot of cost information. Also, many health insurance companies may consider them as being not medically necessary tests. Before having these tests, it is best to talk with your doctor first and check with your health insurance company to see if they are covered.
There are a lot of different methods of obtaining a biopsy, and which one is used depends largely on where the tumor(s) (or suspected tumor) are located. Some biopsies include creating an incision and inserting implements to see and obtain a sample of the tumor, while others only use a needle. Given the wide range of procedures that can be used to take a biopsy, the cost can range from a few hundred dollars for a needle biopsy to several thousand dollars for more invasive procedures like a thoracotomy or laparotomy.
The various biopsy procedures below are listed from least to most expensive categories, which generally aligns with the invasiveness of the procedure.
- Needle extraction biopsy: Fine needle aspiration, thoracentesis, paracentesis, pericardiocentesis
- Semi-invasive: Thoracoscopy/pleuroscopy, laparoscopy
- Invasive: Thoracotomy, laparotomy
As with other diagnostic procedures, biopsies may need to be done multiple times. It is common to start with the least invasive procedures (needle biopsies); however, it is not always possible to get a good sample using only a needle. If enough tumor cells are not collected with a less-invasive biopsy, a more invasive procedure may need to be performed, increasing the overall cost of the diagnosis.
Cancer Treatment Costs
Once a diagnosis of mesothelioma is confirmed and a therapy plan is determined between the doctor and the patient, the costs of treatment are going to begin accumulating.
There are a lot of different chemotherapy drugs available, but the “gold standard” of chemotherapy for mesothelioma treatment is a combination of Alimta® (pemetrexed) and cisplatin. This can cost thousands of dollars for a single treatment. Typically, a round of chemotherapy lasts for several weeks bringing the total as high as $50,000 for a single round of treatment. Other forms of chemotherapy treatment may cost more or less, depending on the specific drug(s) used; however, none of them are likely to be cheap.
Cancer Surgery Costs
As with biopsies, surgical costs can differ greatly depending on the location, invasiveness, and complexity of the surgery. For example, a full lung removal (pneumonectomy) is likely going to cost more than cytoreduction (also known as debulking) – i.e., decreasing the size of the cancerous tumor(s).
Also, the costs may differ for palliative surgeries, which are intended to relieve pain or discomfort rather than attempt to cure the patient of mesothelioma. Often, this involves removing and/or preventing fluid buildup around the lungs, abdomen, or elsewhere.
Radiation Therapy Costs
A study published in August 2015 showed a wide range of costs for radiotherapy of lung and breast cancer patients, with some people paying more than twice as much as others simply based on what area of the country they lived in. Other reasons for drastic differences in the cost of cancer radiation therapy include the length of the treatment and the type of radiation therapy used.
A relatively new method of radiation therapy is being used, known as internal radiation, for some forms of cancer. In this type of treatment, a radioactive source is placed in the body near the tumor to better direct the therapy so as to avoid harming nearby healthy tissue. The use of internal radiation vs. more traditional external beam radiation may also play a role in the cost of radiation therapy.
New and Emerging Treatment Costs
Very often, newer and emerging treatments are likely to cost more, at least at first, as they are still being developed. Furthermore, they are often not covered by insurance, at least until they receive certain approvals from the FDA or other regulatory bodies. However, new treatments may also be funded as part of a study, which may make them more cost effective for some patients. Before taking part in a clinical trial, it is always important to understand what, if any, costs you may have to pay and what may be covered by your insurance or some other method of funding.
Related and Ongoing Costs
In many cases, the cancer diagnosis and treatment is only a part of the costs related to mesothelioma. There are very often additional costs that are not directly part of the cancer treatment, as well as ongoing costs that will need to be covered.
Complications and Secondary Illnesses
Depending on the types of treatment mesothelioma patients undergo, they may be at risk of developing complications or secondary illnesses. These can include:
- Problems due to the removal of one or more organs
- Lung or heart problems due to radiation or chemotherapy treatment
- Hormonal imbalances
- Dental problems caused by chemotherapy or radiation
- Mental or emotional issues due to the traumatic experience of having cancer
- Cancer recurrence or new cancers in another part of the body
These and other illnesses can require additional treatment for many years down the road, even if the cancer goes into remission. Paying for these complications and secondary illnesses on top of the primary cancer treatment can be a tall order for many families.
Travel, Room, and Board
Cancer diagnosis and treatment often requires travel, especially for rare forms of cancer like mesothelioma, as a suitable specialist or clinic may not be located near where the patient lives. Costs can include travel to and from cancer centers, as well as expenses relative to hotel stays, food, gas, and other incidentals along the way. Furthermore, families may need to put payments for these things on credit cards, which can have high interest rates and fees associated with them.
Ongoing Checkups and Prescriptions
If treatment is successful and cancer goes into remission, that is of course great news! However, medical costs related to cancer will never go away completely. Cancer survivors will need to continue receiving checkups to make sure the cancer does not come back. Furthermore, many survivors may have prescriptions or other medical needs that they will need to pay for on an ongoing basis.
Author: Linda Molinari
Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer AllianceRead about Linda
Reviewer: Annette Charlevois
Patient Support CoordinatorRead about Annette
Nelson R. (Aug. 13, 2015) Large Cost Variations for Radiotherapy in Medicare Patients. Medscape.
American Cancer Society. The Affordable Care Act: How It Helps People With Cancer and Their Families.
National Institutes of Health. Annualized Mean Net Costs of Care.
FAIR Health. FH Medical Cost Lookup.
Healthcare Bluebook. Find Your Fair Price.