What is cancer and how much does treatment cost?
What is cancer?
Cancer isn’t just one disease – it’s an umbrella term for a whole group of diseases that all behave in a similar way. At its most basic, a cancer is a disease in which the cells that make up our bodies begin to multiply in an unusual or uncontrolled manner. There are more than 100 types of cancer, most of which are named after the part(s) of the body where they form.
Most of the time, cells grow and die normally according to the genetic code that’s in their DNA. And when something goes wrong with this process, our bodies are usually good about getting rid of the damaged cells so they can’t spread. But as we get older, it becomes more and more likely that there will be mistakes or that our bodies won’t be able to eliminate out-of-control cells – that’s why the risk of cancer increases with age.
When these abnormal cells start to spread, they can sometimes form together into clumps known as tumors. Tumors can be non-cancerous (benign), but when they’re cancerous they can invade new parts of the body and spread (malignant). 2
It’s important to know that there can be major differences between types of cancer, and the same type of cancer can present differently in different people. Some cancers form tumors; others, like leukemia, might not. Some cancers will spread or invade other parts of the body, while others won’t. For the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss cancer in two broad categories: invasive cancer and noninvasive cancer.
Invasive cancer is what many people imagine when they think of cancer – cancer that spreads, either through tumors or some other way, from one part of the body to the next.
Noninvasive cancer, also known as metastatic cancer or carcinoma in situ, is cancer that stays in the place it originated. Although cancer in this form doesn’t invade other parts of the body, it’s often treated or operated upon as it has a risk of doing so in the future.
Both invasive and noninvasive cancers are covered by many critical illness insurance policies, which we’ll address later in the article.
How much does cancer treatment cost?
There’s a lot of variances in the costs of cancer treatment – since there are so many types of cancer, and they present in so many different ways, treatment could include surgeries, experimental drugs, chemotherapy and more. To simplify things, we’ll look at costs for the three most common types of cancer: breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.3
For each of these cancers, we’ll look at two costs – the initial cost, which includes treatment for the year the diagnosis occurs, and continuing costs, which are incurred each of the following years. The costs below are averages, and could change depending on the treatment you undergo and how far the cancer has progressed when it’s discovered, among other factors.
Breast cancer: Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the United States, with an estimated 284,000 diagnoses annually. It’s most common in women, but it can develop in men as well. The initial (first-year) cost for treatment is $23,078, with continuing costs of $2,207 each year after.4
Prostate cancer: Prostate cancer is found only in men, but it’s the most common type of male cancer with more than 248,000 estimated diagnoses annually. The initial (first year) cost for treatment is $19,710, with continuing costs of $3,201 each year after.4
Lung cancer: Lung cancer is common in both men and women, with more than 235,000 estimated diagnoses annually. It’s more expensive to treat than the above cancers – the initial (first-year) cost for treatment is $60,885 for men and $60,533 for women, with continuing costs of $7,591 for men and $8,130 for women each year afterward.4
Of course, these are just three types of cancer – the costs can vary dramatically between different cancers, with first year costs as low as $5,047 for melanoma (skin cancer) or as high as $115,250 for brain cancer. 4
The biggest factor to keep in mind is how much you’ll pay – if you have health insurance, it’ll cover any payments after you’ve met your deductible, but that can still be a lot of money. If you’re like most Americans, you probably have a high-deductible health plan that can require you to pay up to $14,100 before your benefits kick in.5 Factor in the continuing costs of treatment each year after, and even with health coverage you’re looking at a hefty price tag. Thankfully, there’s a better option.