The last thing you will want to think about after a mesothelioma diagnosis is money. The idea of having this disease at all is disheartening enough. But, when you factor in mesothelioma treatment costs, it can be downright devastating. This is particularly true if you don’t have good insurance that will cover these expenses or if you have no insurance at all.
Even so, treatment is a necessary component for helping extend lifespans and improve quality of life. Everyone’s case is different, and costs can vary across the spectrum, but the majority of mesothelioma cases can end up costing tens of thousands of dollars if not much more. There are, however, several methods you can use to help cover at least a portion of mesothelioma costs.
In addition to the standard diagnostic and treatment costs associated with mesothelioma, there is also a collection of secondary costs like travel expenses or room and board for a hospital stay.
Clearly, as time passes, the mesothelioma treatment costs can start to add up.
But, how much will it cost you specifically?
Diagnostic Mesothelioma Costs
Before you get any kind of treatment for the disease, you will obviously need to undergo a variety of diagnostic procedures. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is not an easy disease to diagnose. In fact, many doctors will run tests to rule out a variety of other, more common diseases before they land on mesothelioma. Many medical professionals also recommend getting a second opinion.
So, it’s not uncommon for costs to start accumulating before patients even know they have mesothelioma.
There are numerous diagnostic tests that fall into one of three different categories:
- Imaging techniques (X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and PET scan)
- Blood tests (using biomarkers)
Most physicians will use imaging scans first to try to identify if any problem exists. X-rays are usually the least expensive at an average of around $100 to $500, but they are also the least conclusive.
So even if an X-ray seems to demonstrate a growth or mass in the affected area, a doctor may call for other, more expensive imaging scans to get a better consensus. CT scans and MRIs can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,600 per scan. PET scans can cost up to $2,800 per scan.
Your doctor may ask to take multiple scans from different angles to get a better look at the affected area. Each scan will, of course, cost more money. Fortunately, imaging scans are often covered either partially or fully in many health insurance plans, but not everyone has health insurance, and these costs can start to add up.
Blood tests may be administered concurrently with imaging scans. The goal of blood tests is to identify any biomarkers that may indicate the presence of mesothelioma (or some other disease).
Some common mesothelioma biomarker tests include:
- Mesomark (tests for soluble mesothelin-related proteins or SMRPs)
Mesomark is the only biomarker test to be approved for mesothelioma by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All of these tests are relatively new when it comes to trying to identify mesothelioma, so price data isn’t really available. It also depends on the individual lab where you get your blood drawn. Some doctors may skip blood tests since they are almost never 100% conclusive.
The only conclusive way to make a mesothelioma diagnosis is with biopsies. A biopsy involves the removal of either fluid or tissue from the body that is then tested by a pathologist to identify what kind of disease is present. Of course, these procedures will cost money.
There are generally three methods for retrieving biopsy samples:
- Needle aspiration (thoracentesis, paracentesis, pericardiocentesis)
- Minimally-invasive, camera-assisted surgery (thoracoscopy, laparoscopy, mediastinoscopy)
- Open and invasive surgery (thoracotomy and laparotomy)
Needle biopsies are the least expensive, usually costing around $500 to $700. They involve the use of a needle to draw built-up fluid from the lining of the lungs (in pleural mesothelioma), the lining of the abdomen (in peritoneal mesothelioma), or the lining of the heart (in pericardial mesothelioma). That fluid is then tested by a pathologist. Unfortunately, these biopsies are not always conclusive, and your doctor may order a full tissue biopsy.
The first option for retrieving a tissue biopsy is a camera-assisted surgery, otherwise known as an endoscopy. These surgeries involve small incisions through which a tube with a mounted camera is inserted in order to identify tumors and remove tissue samples. While these procedures are usually more conclusive, they are also more expensive.
Depending on the hospital, prices can range from $3,500 to $5,000.
In some cases, tumors are situated in inconvenient locations in the body, making it hard for surgeons to remove tissue samples with an endoscopy. If that’s the case, open surgery may be required. A thoracotomy (in the chest area) or laparotomy (in the abdominal area) can cost up to $8,000.
The mesothelioma hospital bills will also increase based on the length of time the patient spends recovering in the hospital.
Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
Once mesothelioma has been diagnosed, doctors will likely begin patients on a multimodal treatment plan.
The most common treatment regimen includes some combination of:
- Radiation therapy
The type and amount of treatment any given patient receives is based on their individual prognosis. For instance, a patient with stage 4 mesothelioma (the latest stage) may forgo surgery because it doesn’t have a chance of improving their quality of life or extending their lifespan. By contrast, someone with stage 1 mesothelioma will likely receive aggressive treatment from all three standard therapies.
There are all kinds of different surgical procedures that mesothelioma patients can undergo. Many of them involve the removal of organs (like a lung) or tissues (like the abdominal cavity lining). The cost of surgery really depends on its complexity and the location in the body. An extrapleural pneumonectomy—which involves the removal of a lung, portions of the diaphragm, the linings of the chest and heart, and some lymph nodes—will cost more than a peritonectomy which only removes portions of the abdominal lining. Costs can range from $13,000 to $30,000 on average.
Chemotherapy is another treatment option that many patients will undergo. It can take several weeks to complete a single course of chemotherapy treatments. The most common drugs used are pemetrexed (brand name, Alimta) and cisplatin, which are likely to be cheaper because of their widespread use. Multiple courses of treatment with different drugs can increase the price tag exponentially. A single course of treatment is usually anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000.
Hyperthermic (heated) intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is chemotherapy that is inserted onto tumor sites during surgery for peritoneal mesothelioma. Because the chemotherapy drugs can be more directly applied to the tumors, they are not needed in as high of a quantity. Thus, this particular treatment can range from $700 to $1,000.
Radiation therapy is the final standard type of treatment available. It involves the use of radioactive waves being beamed into the body and aimed at tumor sites. Another form involves radioactive seeds that are implanted directly on or near tumors. The price for radiation therapy ranges from $7,000 to $12,000 per treatment. Depending on how often the patient needs these treatments, the price can add up.
In addition to these standard treatments, there are numerous other emerging treatments that many patients may seek out. For the most part, these treatments are only available in clinical trials (meaning that you’ll likely have to pay much less out of pocket for them).
Certain immunotherapy drugs (medications that provoke an immune response) have been used to treat mesothelioma, but, even if you have great insurance, it likely won’t cover the cost of those medications because they aren’t approved by the FDA for treating mesothelioma.
Other emerging treatments include:
- Gene therapy (substituting normal genes for malfunctioning ones)
- Cryotherapy (using extremely cold temperatures to combat cancer cells)
- Photodynamic therapy (using light to induce a cancer-killing response from photosensitizing agents)
- Virotherapy (injecting viruses that attack and kill cancer cells)
Secondary Mesothelioma Costs
Outside of the mesothelioma hospital bills, there are other costs that can start to pile up. Many of these expenses are unique to everyone, so there are no precise figures.
Some secondary costs include:
- Travel to cancer centers
- Lodging and food
- Prescription medications
- Psychiatric care
- Follow-up visits
- Tests and screenings to check for disease recurrence
- Missing work (or halting work completely)
- Credit card interest after paying medical bills
Not everyone lives close to a high-quality cancer center that can offer exemplary care. If that’s the case, patients may have to pay for their own travel, lodging, and food. The amount of time spent at the cancer center can also increase these travel costs. Major surgery can require recovery times of up to 2 weeks in the hospital or more.
There are also always auxiliary medical expenses like prescriptions and follow-up visits. Psychiatric care is an important facet of holistic cancer treatment, as well. The loss of income from missing or quitting work can be a huge financial drain on many patients and their families. This may cause them to use credit cards to pay medical bills, which only increases expenses.
How to Cover Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
There are several ways that patients can get help paying for their mesothelioma treatments even if they don’t currently have insurance. Obviously, having insurance is a big help in curbing the total cost of mesothelioma treatments. Even in cases when the health insurance only covers a portion of the total cost of the procedure, it can still help.
Without insurance, there are a few methods people can use, including:
Some healthcare administrations and hospitals may be able to pull from grant funding to help offset the cost of certain procedures. Others may be willing to waive certain fees if asked.
People of a certain age or income bracket may qualify for coverage with Medicare or Medicaid.
Veterans, particularly those who were exposed to asbestos (the carcinogen that causes mesothelioma) during duty, may qualify for benefits and treatment at VA hospitals or other cancer clinics.
Most asbestos exposure was caused by corporate negligence, and many mesothelioma sufferers may be able to earn a settlement to offset the cost of their medical bills.
Clinical trials are also another option that many people can try. These are research studies that investigate how certain treatments affect a large group of people usually with the same disease. In many cases, the major treatments (such as new chemotherapy or immunotherapy drugs) are completely free as part of the trial.
Clinical trials also offer many of the emerging treatments listed above for little or no cost. So, even in cases where you may feel overwhelmed by a mesothelioma diagnosis, there are still options to help you cover your expenses.