How Much is Chemotherapy? Resources to Help With Costs

by Nick Versaw Updated January 14th, 2022

How much is chemotherapy: little girl hugging a woman

When you think of the term “chemo,” you probably imagine cancer treatment. However, chemotherapy isn’t only for cancer. Chemo is a prescribed drug regimen designed to treat autoimmune disorders and some types of blood disorders along with slowing the growth of cancer tumors. 

Chemotherapy affects cells at the DNA level. The goal of the drug is to disrupt the genetic makeup of the cells to stop the cells from continuing to grow and reproduce. The drugs work by killing cells that are contributing to the illness or disease and act at various points in the cell’s life cycle. 

There are hundreds of chemotherapy drugs. Most are delivered intravenously (through the veins) but there are arterial, oral, and topical agents as well. These are a few of the factors that matter when attempting to calculate how much chemotherapy costs.

Note: The answers to cost questions such as “how much is chemotherapy” change frequently. The prices here are current as of January 2022 and may vary based on your location.

How Much Do Chemotherapy Drugs Cost?

There are no price transparency laws to help us pin down drug costs. To understand how much chemotherapy costs, it helps to know how the various drugs are classified, how they are prescribed, and the illnesses they are being given to treat — e.g., at what stage the disease is, the prognosis or forecast, and the patient’s underlying health. 

Also, where you have your cancer drugs administered will affect the cost of chemotherapy. For example, inpatient therapy at a hospital costs more than chemotherapy treatment at an outpatient facility. 

There are several classifications of chemotherapy drugs. Keep in mind that the prices listed here are the cash prices and are for a single dose or, if oral, for a single month. However, oncologists determine the dosages for all chemotherapy drugs based on an individualized treatment plan. 

Alkylating Agents

Alkylation drugs work at all phases of the cell cycle and can treat many types of cancer, including lung cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer as well as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, and sarcoma. Around one-third of patients with lupus receive treatment with alkylating agents.

This is the oldest category of cancer treatment drugs. When these drugs are given, they work to keep the cells from reproducing by attacking the DNA directly. Because these agents affect cells broadly they are also toxic to normal cells. It’s particularly toxic to the GI tract, bone marrow, testes, and ovaries. 

Chemotherapy drugs in the alkylating agents category include:

  • Temozolomide, 100 mg: $62 for 5 capsules
  • Cyclophosphamide, 50 mg: $133 for 30 capsules
  • Gleostine, 40 mg: $380 for a single capsule
  • Melphalan, 2 mg: $216 for 50 tablets
  • Carmustine, 7.7 mg: $4,341 per implant

Antimetabolite Agents

Some of the cancer treatment drugs in this classification have been around for more than 50 years. They are thought to block cancer cell proliferation and growth by blocking the creation of purine. This fights cancers that are known to occur when the body can no longer metabolize purine such as urologic cancers, diseases like multiple sclerosis, and blood cancers like leukemia.

Some of the drugs which are antimetabolites include:

  • Hydroxyurea, 500 mg: $21 for 60 capsules
  • Mercaptopurine, 50 mg: $35 for 30 tablets
  • Thioguanine, 40 mg: $215 for 8 tablets
  • Pentostatin, 10 mg/5 ml: $12,448 for 1 vial

Plant Alkaloids 

These anti-tumor drugs come from plants and keep cancer at bay by preventing the abnormal cells from dividing and multiplying. The most common plant alkaloids developed for chemotherapy are called vinca alkaloids and they come from the Madagascar periwinkle plant. 

Here are a few of the drugs in the vinca alkaloid classification used in chemotherapy:

  • Vincristine, 1 mg/ml: $14 for a 2 ml vial
  • Vinorelbine, 10 mg/ml: $17 for a single vial
  • Vincristine sulfate liposome therapy, 5 mg/30 ml: $15,984 for a single vial

Anti-tumor Antibiotics

Anti-tumor antibiotic drugs are considered the most important chemotherapy drugs by many oncologists and researchers. They work by stopping cell replication at the DNA level by inhibiting an enzyme called topoisomerase II. These destructive enzymes break down the DNA of a healthy cell, causing cancer to occur. 

Some anti-tumor antibiotic chemotherapy drugs include:

How Much is Chemotherapy: Other Considerations

Medical team talking to a patient

Chemotherapy may be given as a single drug or multiple drugs, it may be given all on one day or one day per month. It may be taken orally for 6 months or 3 years. So, understanding the price of the drug is only part of the picture. There is much more to consider when looking at the cost of cancer care

In 2015, a National Institute of Health study on the financial burden of cancer treatment found that in the United States, the total cost of cancer care was $190.2 billion per year. 

These per-patient cost estimates included all cancer-attributable costs for medical services for “initial cancer care” in 1 year. This cost includes oral prescription drugs and chemotherapy, and has been adjusted for inflation as of the 2020 fiscal year:

  • Bladder cancer: $26,442
  • Brain cancer: $139,813
  • Breast cancer: $34,979
  • Cervical cancer: $58,716
  • Colorectal cancer: $66,523
  • Hodgkin lymphoma: $75,372
  • Leukemia: $47,263
  • Acute myeloid leukemia: $190,305
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: $25,505
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia: $34,875
  • Lung cancer: $68,293
  • Liver cancer: $62,775
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: $75,164
  • Pancreatic cancer: $108,165
  • Prostate cancer: $28,108

What are Clinical Trials?

How much is chemotherapy: chemist analyzing fluids in a flask

Clinical trials include research studies that evaluate new treatments for cancer and other diseases, including cancer treatments like chemo drugs, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. Volunteering for a clinical trial may help decrease your cost of cancer treatment and reduce other health care costs as well. You can visit the American Society of Clinical Oncology website to learn more about clinical trials in your area. 

How Much is Chemotherapy if You Have Insurance?

When you’re faced with a cancer diagnosis, the last thing you want to worry about is how much your health insurance will pay and how much you’ll have to pay yourself. But that is the reality of today’s health care system. 

The good news is that according to AARP, medical insurance pays most of the costs associated with cancer treatment but as with any covered expense, payment depends on your health insurance plan, including the amount of your deductible, co-pay, and co-insurance costs. This may add up to $4,000 or more. 

According to the American Cancer Society, there are three things to be aware of from the start to keep from paying more out of pocket than you should: the terms of your health insurance policy, any obligations to stay in a preferred network of doctors, hospitals, and clinics, and the actual charges as you are billed for them. 

Help Paying for Chemotherapy-Related Expenses

No matter your insurance coverage status, if you have cancer, the American Cancer Society wants you to focus on getting better. On their website, Cancer.org, you’ll find resources to provide financial assistance and other help with cancer treatment expenses. The information includes advocacy to help you deal with your medical bills, get help directly from chemotherapy drug companies, and apply for government programs for cancer patients like Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance

Here are other websites that offer resources to help with the cost of chemo and other support:

How Much is Chemo Near You?

Answering questions like “how much is chemotherapy near me” can be complicated due to all the factors we discussed here. Fortunately, Compare.com makes it easier to find answers if you’re having a procedure or test. Check out this cost comparison tool to discover the exact prices doctors near you are charging on thousands of procedures in our database:

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