Why is Cancer Treatment Expensive?

Posted on:8,Dec'14

Posted by: CancerHelpline

Tags: Cancer Treatment


While grappling with the diagnosis of cancer itself is tough, managing treatment and getting to know the costs involved are an entirely different ball game altogether. It is commonly known that cancer treatment is highly expensive. In fact according to research (focused on America), cancer patients are twice as likely to go bankrupt.

So, what exactly makes these sets of treatments so heavy on the wallet? We try to answer exactly that question in this post.

The kinds of cancer treatment and the corresponsing costs

Cancer never involves a single line of treatment. Treatment always includes a mix of drugs, chemo, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy and surgery if required. In fact in several cases, after the chemo sessions are done, drugs are prescribed to avoid a recurrence.

So, let us start the analyses of costs with the more widespread method of treatment – drugs. Cancer drugs are significantly expensive. Most of them are made outside of India and are imported here to be used. Even in America, new drugs are priced as high as $10,000 dollars and the costs are highly variable, depending on how rare is the disease, and which pharmaceutical company is producing these said drugs.

To give you an estimate of how much these drugs cost in India, consider Herceptin. Herceptin is manufactured by the global pharma major Roche and is commonly used for breast cancer patients. It costs about Rs. 75,000 per course, and a patient could on an average require up to 17 courses of this medicine. In the case of Avastin, which is used in the case of stomach or colon cancer, the cost is a lakh per cycle and patients could on an average require 8 cycles of the same.

In fact costs are so high, that a recent drug that Roche came up with, which could prolong life by about 6 months is priced at  £90,000. It has been declared too expensive in the United Kingdom.

Moving away from the costs of drugs, we come to the cost of chemotherapy. A session of chemotherapy could be anywhere between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 4 lakh depending on the drugs used. This is not just dependent on the drug, but it is also related to the length of every session.

The price of radiation therapy depends on the equipment. With the basic equipment the radiation therapy costs around Rs. 45,000 at private hospitals to Rs 20,000 in government hospitals. And if advanced equipment like Intensity Modulated Radio Therapy and Image Guided Radio Therapy are used for treatment then the cost of the treatment could be anywhere between Rs 75,000 to 1 lakh per session. The cost of hormone therapy ranges from Rs. 16,000 to Rs. 30,000 for an injection, and usually this is not a single point solution. It is used along with other treatment procedures.

According to a July 2011 paper by the Indian Statistical Institute, the average cost of cancer care per patient in the government hospital, All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi amounted to Rs 36,812. And reports say that in private hospitals, the cost could be anywhere between Rs. 2 to Rs. 8 lakh, even in rural areas. And these reports just focus on radiotherapy, which is the most commonly used treatment.

Why are the costs so high?

First of all, most of the cancers detected in India are at the later stages. And by a rule of thumb, cancer care at later stages is more expensive than early detection and treatment.

The drugs that are used in cancer treatments are not manufactured in India. They are imported and cost a bomb when prescribed.

The other reason for exceptionally high costs is the fact that setting up a cancer specialty hospital is an expensive affair. Reports quote that setting up a proper cancer center could be a Rs. 50 crore affair. This is owing to the fact that equipment has to be imported to set up a well functioning center and this equipment add to the costs significantly. In fact, a cancer diagnosing machine such as PET CT scan machine costs around Rs 3 crores to 6 crores.

Other Costs       

Apart from medical costs, a significant part of cancer treatment includes the non-medical costs such as hospital stay, commute, travel, food and rent. Considering the fact that in India we are not in any position to meet the demands of all cancer-afflicted people, we can safely say that most people travel outside of their towns/ villages to take up treatment.

We do not have enough oncologists, nurses, nursing assistants and beds to accommodate all patients. A lot of patients move away from their homes and have to temporarily accommodate themselves and their families elsewhere while treatment is in process. These expenses are significantly high given the fact that the treatment is not short term.

Medical Insurance

Medical insurance in India is a rarity. Most middle and lower classes are not insured for health. And among those who are insured, the insured amount is so low, that it is a very tiny part of the whole treatment cost. While government hospitals provide subsidized treatments, very few of them are really good and they also have issues of accommodation. Chennai’s Cancer Institute treats about 60% of its cancer patients for free!

What can be done for the high costs?

Several drug companies suggest that the government needs to introduce compulsory licensing of cancer drugs to reduce cost of drugs. This licensing should ensure that drug companies in India can produce a generic version of the patented drug in order to reach more people.

More cancer institutions need to be set up and state sponsored welfare programs should also include cancer treatment in order to benefit those living below poverty line. The government should also encourage support groups and non-profit organizations, which work in the space of supporting cancer-afflicted patients and work alongside them in order to reach more people. It is time cancer is treated with significant public health strategy.


That's a creative answer to a difficult question


Thank you Daysia. We shall try to bring you more articles like this one.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any queries.
Toll free: 1800 120 2676; Email: info@cancerhelpline.in


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Thank you. We are glad you found it helpful.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any queries.
Toll free: 1800 120 2676; Email: info@cancerhelpline.in


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