NEW DELHI: Cancer is a life-threatening disease and its treatment continues to remain one of the most expensive, impacting one’s finances. A study by International Institute of Population Sciences found that two out of five cancer patients in India have to sell assets and incur debts to treat cancer.
Another study released recently by Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance notes that half of the patients who are diagnosed with cancer are uninsured. Almost 50 per cent of them pay out of their pockets for treatment. About 92 per cent of the 100 oncologists who were surveyed in the study believe that a majority of patients discontinue treatment due to unaffordability.
The study adds that nearly 75 per cent patients are either uninsured or are inadequately insured to pay for cancer care. “The financial impact of cancer is glaring. While there are advanced treatments available, the staggering cost involved makes it unaffordable for several patients,” said Sumit Rai, MD & CEO, Edelweiss Tokio.
Cost of treatment
There is no standard price tag for cancer cure. It can cost as low as Rs 2.5 lakh for six months of treatment with some of the lowest priced generic drugs, to as high as Rs 35 lakh.
Edelweiss Tokio notes that currently, standard cancer treatment for early and locally advanced stages costs about Rs 4.5 lakh, and for metastatic stage cancer, about Rs 6 lakh. The financial burden increases sharply if a patient opts for advanced therapy. Across all cancer types, advanced therapy costs about Rs 10 lakh for locally advanced stage (stages 2 & 3) and about Rs 14 lakh for metastatic stage.
According to Anand Prabhudesai, co-founder, Turtlemint, the major reasons why cancer treatment is so expensive are the astronomical cost of equipment and drugs. He said that setting up a cancer hospital can cost close to Rs 100 crore and each equipment that needs to be imported costs a small fortune.
Once the treatment begins, every chemotherapy cycle costs Rs 63,500 - Rs 1.9 lakh; breast cancer surgery costs Rs 1.9-4.25 lakh; prostrate cancer surgery costs Rs 3.49-6.35 lakh. Breast cancer drugs cost around Rs 75,000 for each course; drugs for kidney and lung cancer cost around Rs 1 lakh. The treatment involves multiple courses and cycles.
Why you should be worried
A vast majority of doctors surveyed in the Edelweiss Tokio study believed that cancer incidences will rise by 23 per cent in the coming five years. While survival rates will drop as cancer condition progresses, cost of treatment increases significantly. This leads to several patients dropping out of the treatment routine. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, breast, cervical, oral, lung and colorectal cancers contribute to a greater proportion of incidences, accounting for 47 per cent of all cancer cases.
Meeting the cost
Prabhudesai said that the cost of treatment of diseases, cancer in particular, needs more in-depth financial planning. “This is where insurance plays a key role. It not only meets diagnosis and treatment costs, but also prevents depletion of savings and incurrence of debts.”
Currently, critical illness insurance policy and standalone cancer insurance policy provide coverage for cancer, the sum of which can go as high as Rs 60 lakh. The standard health insurance policies also cover cancer, but not the total treatment cost.