patient in a hospital ICU, costly cancer drugs

Cancer research has produced quite a few interesting new compounds lately, and some of them can extend a desperate patient’s life for months or occasionally even longer. But if you needed one of these costly cancer drugs, could you afford it? The prices can be breathtaking.

The Bill for Some Costly Cancer Drugs:

Q. I could only gasp when I saw the Medicare summary after I took Opdivo for metastatic melanoma. For each infusion the charge from the hospital pharmacy was over $13,000, plus $800 for administration.

To make matters worse, it did not work. Now I am scheduled to get Keytruda, if my insurance will cover it.

Opdivo and Keytruda for Metastatic Melanoma:

A. New immunotherapy for cancer is unbelievably expensive. Both nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) are considered important advances in the treatment of metastatic melanoma. They are also approved for treating certain lung cancers. You can read more about these medications here, here and here.

The original estimate on both these drugs was that they would cost in the range of $12,500 a month. More than 100 leading oncologists have called such prices unsustainable. (You can listen to an NPR interview with one of them, Ayalew Tefferi, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.)

There is growing recognition that the new drug treatments will drive patients, and probably insurance companies, to the brink of bankruptcy or over it. Although cancer drugs are prominent among therapies that cost more than anyone can really afford, there are other medications that break the bank as well. Medicines that cure hepatitis C have been criticized for their pricing as well. 60 Minutes even did an expose on the high price of cancer drugs.

Have you been treated with an outrageously expensive medication? Or have you had to forego treatment because you could not afford it? Tell us your story below in the comments.


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  1. Ginny
    Gainesville, Fl

    My generic osteoporosis drug, raloxifene, cost has increased significantly. I found a better price using a Canadian pharmacy. Are Canadian pharmacies safe to use? Comments and recommendations would be appreciated. Thanks

  2. Janice P

    I was treated for lung cancer 3 years ago. Fortunately for me I was well insured. The surgery was billed at 98 thousand dollars. I had 4 bouts of chemo at 20 thousand each. Cancer is very unaffordable. I wish something could be done who don’t have good insurance coverage or lots of cash to pay for it. Obamacare is not enough to help sick people.

  3. Larry M
    Raleigh, NC

    When my late wife was undergoing her (ultimately unsuccessful) chemotherapy treatments in late 2004 and early 2005, she was treated every two weeks with one of the …mab drugs at a cost of $12,500.

    She eventually blew through $125,000 in late 2004 and another $125,000 in early 2005. Fortunately we had really good insurance.

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