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High Cost of Living with Advanced Breast Cancer

Health care costs can be among some of the highest expenditures individuals face throughout their lives. This is especially the case for individuals battling long-term conditions, including cancer.

How much does it cost to treat advanced breast cancer?

Although exact numbers may vary, in recent years it has been estimated that collectively, individuals with cancer pay roughly $4 billion in out-of-pocket costs when it comes to treating their condition, and that in total, almost $90 billion is spent throughout the United States on healthcare related to cancer treatment, diagnosis, and management.1 More specifically, breast cancer is estimated to make up $16-20 billion of that health care spending alone.2 This number has been further broken down by experts, who estimate that the cost of treating each individual case of breast cancer may vary from $20,000 to $120,000, or more, depending on the severity of the case.3,4 Earlier stages of breast cancer tend to be on the lower side, whereas the cost to treat advanced breast cancer comes in on the higher end of the spectrum.3,5

The high price tag for treating advanced breast cancer can come from a variety of sources, including medication costs, physician fees, hospital inpatient fees, hospice care, and more. Many common cancer-fighting medications can cost over $100,000 a year, which often stems from the large amount of money it takes to develop these medications in the first place.3,4 Every breast cancer case is unique and requires different treatment and monitoring. This variation, along with differences in insurance coverage, household incomes, and other financial responsibilities can make the exact cost of cancer care and the overall financial toll different case by case.

Issues with cancer care and work

The cost of treating cancer can affect both the uninsured and insured, and cancer itself can limit an individual’s ability to work. Of the more than 1,500 respondents to our 2018 Impact of Cancer survey, nearly 20% said they had to go on disability as a result of their cancer diagnosis or treatment. Additionally, 18% said they had to reduce the number of hours they worked, while another 30% said they have either chosen to stop working completely or have chosen to take a medical leave from work. These numbers suggest that living with cancer, such as advanced breast cancer, may make continuing to work a challenge, further complicating issues surrounding insurance coverage and overall income which may lead to distress.

What does the research say?

In past years, research into cancer care costs has centered on figuring out total dollar amounts of treatment and management. Although this research still continues today, another focus has emerged looking to determine how the high cost of care emotionally, mentally, and physically impacts those paying. A new term has arisen in recent years called “financial toxicity.” Financial toxicity is a term used to describe the financial distress that can be experienced by individuals navigating high cancer care costs. Issues like experiencing inadequate access to safe housing, food, basic needs, and medications, among other things (as a result of financial burdens), are considered when determining an individual’s financial distress.6

Unsurprisingly, results from several of these studies have reported that individuals treating advanced breast cancer experience significant levels of anxiety, stress, and overall financial toxicity. These feelings were experienced by both insured and uninsured individuals.6 Financial distress, in general, can take a toll on overall quality of life, leading to feelings of severe anxiety, depression, or other mental health burdens that can further complicate an already stressful and difficult situation.

If you or a loved one are experiencing distress as a result of the high cost of living with advanced breast cancer or are struggling to afford treatment, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about options that may be available in your specific situation. Additionally, your healthcare provider’s office may have a financial counselor on staff that can help you navigate monetary or insurance issues, to help you afford the treatment that you need.

  1. Howley EK. Why is Cancer Treatment So Expensive? U.S. News and World Report: Health. https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2018-06-20/why-is-cancer-treatment-so-expensive. Published June 20, 2018. Accessed January 18, 2019.
  2. Ryan S. The Costs of Breast Cancer in the U.S. Costs of Care. https://costsofcare.org/the-costs-of-breast-cancer-in-the-u-s/. Accessed January 18, 2019.
  3. Zimmerman MP, Mehr SR. Breast Cancer: Will Treatment Costs Outpace Effectiveness? American Journal of Managed Care. https://www.ajmc.com/journals/evidence-based-oncology/2012/2012-2-vol18-n5/breast-cancer-will-treatment-costs-outpace-effectiveness. Published December 6, 2012. Accessed January 18, 2019.
  4. Levitan D. ASCO Breast: Metastatic Breast Cancer Costs Similar Across Most Treatment Options. http://www.cancernetwork.com/asco-2011-breast-cancer-symposium/asco-breast-metastatic-breast-cancer-costs-similar-across-most-treatment-options. Published September 13, 2011. Accessed January 18, 2019.
  5. Blumen H, Fitch K, Polkus V. Comparison of treatment costs for breast cancer, by tumor stage and type of service. Am Health Drug Benefits. Feb 2016; 9(1), 23-32. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822976/. Accessed January 18, 2019.
  6. Three Studies Reveal Cancer Patients Face Serious Financial Hardship, Do Not Discuss Treatment Costs with Physicians. American Society of Clinical Oncology. https://www.asco.org/about-asco/press-center/news-releases/three-studies-reveal-cancer-patients-face-serious-financial. Published September 24, 2018. Accessed January 18, 2019.

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