What Is the Cost of Treating Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma treatment cost varies depending on the prescribed treatment, choice of health care provider and the patient’s medical insurance coverage.
The most common treatments for mesothelioma include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and multimodal therapy. Understanding all the factors that determine the costs of mesothelioma treatment can be difficult.
However, the costs of different types of procedures provide a general overview of expected treatment expenses and can assist patients and loved ones with developing a financial plan.
Common Costs of Mesothelioma Treatment
- Chemotherapy: The standard chemotherapy for mesothelioma is a combination regimen of two medications. Pemetrexed (Alimta) and cisplatin cost a total of $40,000 to $50,000 for first-line treatment over several weeks. Yearly out-of-pocket expenses can be over $10,000. Oral chemotherapy can be as expensive as $30,000 per month.
- Surgery: Patients with an early-stage diagnosis are more likely to undergo invasive surgeries for mesothelioma such as pneumonectomy, which removes one of the lungs. An early-stage mesothelioma patient may pay between $20,000 and $30,000 for surgical expenses.
- Radiation Therapy: The cost of a course of radiation for mesothelioma is comparable to that of lung cancer. According to a 2015 study, patients with Medicare can expect to pay $7,500 to $11,100 for a round of radiation.
- Experimental Treatment: New treatments offered through clinical research trials or advanced treatment centers will generally cost much more than traditional therapies. Most insurance companies will not cover the cost of experimental medicines, but the sponsor will often provide the medication in a clinical research trial.
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): Many patients choose to complement their cancer treatment with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga or herbal remedies. In a 2016 study, patients reported spending between $400 and $600 annually on CAM therapies. Patients also use diet and exercise to boost health and improve cancer prognosis.
Mesothelioma Diagnostic Costs
Diagnosing mesothelioma involves several tests and procedures that carry their own costs. The following are common tests and price ranges, which vary depending on a patient’s diagnosis:
- Needle Biopsy: $500 to $700. This is one of the most reliable methods of confirming a mesothelioma diagnosis and often ordered after imaging and blood work. This procedure is often performed simultaneously with a thoracoscopy or pleuroscopy.
- CT, PET and MRI: $1,000 to $5,000. Before cancer is recognized as mesothelioma, these imaging studies are ordered to determine the extent and location of tumors.
- Thoracoscopy or pleuroscopy: $10,000 to $15,000. These scoped examinations of the lungs and pleural space confirm cancer presence and allow surgeons access to the tumor for biopsy. A less conclusive option, the endoscopy, costs between $3,500 and $5,000.
- Blood Tests: Cost is unavailable. Many blood tests for mesothelioma are still in the testing phase. The MESOMARK blood test, which is used in conjunction with other diagnostic tools, analyzes biomarkers, and these are a developing area of study.
Secondary Costs of Mesothelioma Treatment
Unexpected costs can be one of the more significant financial burdens for mesothelioma patients. Keeping track of all possible sources of expense helps to prepare for the total cost of cancer treatment.
- Lost Income: Going without work can decimate a family’s financial situation. Losing a primary source of income makes every medical bill more difficult to pay.
- Caregiving Costs: Mesothelioma is a debilitating disease, and many patients hire caregivers to assist with daily care, household tasks and everyday errands.
- Transportation: Driving is difficult for many cancer patients, and transportation services are the safest way to get around. However, bus fees, rideshare prices and medical transportation costs add up quickly.
- Lodging: Most patients don’t live close to specialized mesothelioma treatment centers and require travel to other cities or states with overnight stays.
- Service Fees: Beyond the cost of copays and diagnostic tests, you may encounter lab fees or additional charges from your insurance during standard cancer care.
- Living Expenses: If there are household members, such as children or pets, who require care, it may cost more to cover their care while you are undergoing treatment.
- Prescriptions: In addition to the medication that treats your cancer, you may need pain medications or other drugs to deal with the side effects of your primary treatment.
- Physical Therapy: Chemotherapy and aggressive surgery leave many patients without the strength and energy they once had; rehabilitation therapy is often required.
- Post-Surgical Expenses: Healing can take several weeks after surgery, and doctors will prescribe pain medication and antibiotics during that period.
- Follow-up Care: After your cancer has stabilized, your doctor will continue to order imaging and maintenance care to prevent the growth or recurrence of cancer.
How to Pay for Mesothelioma Treatment
There are several means of financial assistance for patients and loved ones to pay for mesothelioma treatment and lower costs and related expenses. Government programs, funding options, veterans benefits and legal compensation can reduce the financial burden of cancer treatment.
Health InsuranceInsurance companies will cover the majority of expenses related to hospitalization, prescriptions and conventional cancer treatment. Coverage options differ based on the employer, benefits offered and area of coverage. Patients should consider whether they will have to meet a deductible and cover the cost of copays. Some plans also offer cancer-specific coverage options for patients without a current cancer diagnosis.
Legal CompensationExposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma and usually due to the negligence of a manufacturer to protect its employees or consumers. Patients who develop mesothelioma should not be held responsible for paying the costs of a preventable disease. There are many benefits to seeking an experienced mesothelioma lawyer and filing a legal claim for asbestos litigation. Compensation and financial assistance are available in asbestos trust funds or mesothelioma settlements. Both of these can significantly lower the cost of medical care.
Clinical TrialsClinical research offers the chance at new and exciting treatments for mesothelioma. Depending on the sponsor of the study, these medications or therapies are often fully covered. Reviewing the study protocol is essential because there are occasional study visits or tests that may not be covered by the sponsor.
Government ProgramsGovernment-provided insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid, offer substantial help to senior patients. Medicare covers about 80% of the cost for specific treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Medicare also covers many prescription medications that doctors prescribe alongside primary therapies. If you do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance may be accessible. Supplemental Security Income is an option for those with low income, and some states have grant programs available.
Veterans BenefitsU.S. veterans are usually eligible for discounted cancer treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA medical system. Military asbestos exposure has caused numerous mesothelioma cases, and those affected can file to receive VA disability benefits and fully covered health care.
CharitiesTo help patients pay for expenses such as transportation and lodging, many hospitals and nonprofit groups provide charity-based financial assistance. These companies offer free travel or accommodation for patients traveling long distances for treatment. Mesothelioma patient advocates or hospital social workers are available to help patients navigate these programs.
How to Prepare for Mesothelioma-Related Expenses
Many Americans struggle with the financial and emotional consequences of a cancer diagnosis. Financial toxicity occurs when patients are unable to fulfill the treatment their doctor recommends due to a lack of resources.
To avoid financial toxicity, patients should conduct financial planning early and thoroughly. The best planning will happen with trusted family, friends, social workers or patient navigators who will help achieve the treatment goals of the patient using the financial resources available.
- Does my insurance provider need to approve the treatment plan before I can begin?
- Are there other treatment options available if I cannot afford my current plan?
- Will my insurance cover the cost of another doctor for a second opinion?
- Can someone assist me in tracking insurance claims and organizing a budget?
It may be uncomfortable for some but discussing finances with those responsible for your care will open up new avenues for reducing treatment costs. Proper financial planning ensures patients get the most financial assistance possible for complete mesothelioma treatment.