How Much Does Lung Cancer Treatment Cost?

Lung cancer is cancer that forms in the lung tissues when cells grow out of control. Lung cancer causes about 25% of all cancer deaths, making it the leading cause of cancer death for people of any sex. 

In many cases, people with lung cancer don’t have any symptoms. Some people with lung cancer experience symptoms like chest pain, wheezing, unexplained weight loss, difficulty breathing or swallowing, coughing up blood, hoarseness, or a persistent cough. Sometimes, the cancer is discovered during an imaging test (such as an X-ray) for another condition. 

Woman and doctor discuss lung cancer images

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

The cost of lung cancer treatment varies widely, depending on your insurance plan, diagnosis, and choice of treatment, among other factors. Learn more about what to expect, how much is covered, and what you might pay out of pocket.

Costs of Lung Cancer Care

A report analyzing costs billed to Medicare for different types of cancer projected the costs per patient in terms of 2019 dollars. These figures do not represent the out-of-pocket costs to the patient.

Care for lung cancer in the first year of diagnosis averaged $65,700, plus $3,500 for oral medications under Medicare Part D. For each year after that, care was $11,900, and oral medications $2,700. The cost of care in the last 12 months of life was $106,000 and oral medications were $4,500.

Medical Bill Terms

When you start looking into the cost of lung cancer treatment, it can be difficult to understand the terminology on your medical bill. Here are some of the key terms you might encounter.

Premium

The premium is the amount that you pay for your insurance plan every month. If you purchase your insurance plan through your state’s insurance marketplace, you may be eligible for tax credits that can help you lower your premium.

Deductible

Your deductible is the amount that you pay for your healthcare visits before your insurer begins to cover costs. Often, insurance plans with lower premiums have higher deductibles (and vice versa).

Co-Pay

A co-pay, or co-payment, is one type of patient cost-sharing—the amount of covered health costs that you pay out of pocket. A co-payment is a fixed amount that you pay for a certain kind of service, such as outpatient visits or lab tests. 

Another form of patient cost-sharing is coinsurance. Coinsurance is the percentage of each medical bill that you pay for covered health services.

Often, insurance plans with lower premiums require higher co-payments and coinsurance payments.

Out-of-Network Costs

Out-of-network costs, including both coinsurance and co-payments, are the costs you pay for healthcare providers and services that aren’t contracted with your insurance plan. To keep costs down, it’s important to use in-network providers for your lung cancer treatments whenever possible.

Treatment Options for Lung Cancer

The two main kinds of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (which is the more common type) and small cell lung cancer. Here are some of the treatment options for each type. ancer.

Small cell lung cancer.

  • Chemotherapy: Medication is given to attack fast-growing cells, which include cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Substances made by the body or synthetically instruct the immune system to recognize and fight some forms of lung cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: High energy particles are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Laser therapy: A focused beam of light is used to kill cancer cells.
  • Endoscopic stent placement: A stent (a small, thin tube) to keep the airway open is inserted using a flexible, lighted tool called an endoscope.
  • Surgery
    Non-small cell lung cancer:
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs and substances are used that act on cancer cells that have specific characteristics.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT): A drug is given to make cancer cells more sensitive and then light is applied to damage the cells.
  • Cryosurgery: An instrument is used to freeze unwanted tissues.
  • Electrocautery: An instrument is used to burn unwanted tissues.
  • Surgery

Insurance Coverage

The type of insurance plan you have is one of the most important factors in determining your out-of-pocket costs for lung cancer treatment. While all nonexperimental lung cancer treatments are generally covered by insurance, you may have co-pays or associated costs. 

It’s important to know the details about your insurance plan, including what it covers, how much you pay, and in what form you pay it.

Medicare

Medicare provides insurance coverage to Americans over 65 and some people with disabilities. There are several parts to Medicare:

  • Part A, which covers hospitalization
  • Part B, which covers outpatient services and physician visits (and radiation therapy in the case of lung cancer)
  • Part C, which covers physician, hospitalization, and outpatient services through private plans
  • Part D, which covers oral medication (including some chemotherapy drugs and other common lung cancer medications)
  • Medigap, a supplemental program that lowers co-pays and other forms of patient cost-sharing

People often pay higher premiums on Medicare than they might with other types of health insurance, but they pay less overall in cost-sharing expenses—especially if they have Medigap coverage.

Medicaid

Medicaid provides insurance coverage to eligible people who are pregnant or low-income, as well as people with disabilities, children, and older adults. 

What Medicaid covers for lung cancer treatment varies by state. However, most people with lung cancer will be able to get coverage for their inpatient and outpatient hospital services, lab tests, and imaging, as well as many common lung cancer medications.

Eligibility for Medicaid coverage is retroactive. This means that you may be eligible for treatment and testing you underwent during the past three months before your application was finalized. Medicaid also covers some transportation expenses, which can help if you have to visit different specialists.

Private Insurance

Private insurance plans are offered through your employer or purchased individually. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are generally covered under private insurance plans, but you may have co-pays or coinsurance.

It’s important to make sure that your plan offers the protection of an out-of-pocket limit, as cancer treatments often reach the maximum quickly. 

The ACS reports that patients with private insurance plans through a large employer often pay the lowest out-of-pocket costs. Meanwhile, those with high-deductible plans through a small employer or individual marketplace plan usually have to pay more upfront.

Average Costs

The costs billed to insurance providers and programs such as Medicare can be high. But the average out-of-pocket costs for lung cancer treatments vary widely, depending on the insurance coverage and the duration of treatment. Here are some of the average costs for common lung cancer treatments:

  • Surgery: $15,000 to over $30,000 (the average Medicare patient was liable for $1,738 of this out of pocket in 2017)
  • Chemotherapy: $10,000 to $200,000 total, or $1,000 to $12,000 monthly (covered by Medicare and marketplace insurance plans)
  • Radiation therapy: Over $9,000 (covered by Medicare and marketplace insurance plans)
  • Medication: Over $4,000 per month (out-of-pocket liability for patients with Medicare Part D was highest in the staging phase at $184 per month)

Invisible Costs

In addition to the costs of medical care—such as blood tests, imaging tests, hospital stays, specialist referrals, clinic visits, drug costs, radiation treatments, surgical procedures, and more—there are many other possible invisible costs associated with lung cancer treatment. 

These indirect costs may include: 

  • Travel, transportation, lodging, and meals
  • Family and household upkeep (such as elder care, childcare, or cleaning services)
  • Caregiver expenses
  • Lost wages and earnings
  • Counseling
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Palliative care (care intended to improve quality of life rather than cure)
  • Additional therapies, such as acupuncture

Questions to Ask Before Treatment

If you have financial concerns about lung cancer treatment, talk to your oncologist or oncology nurse. They can connect you with a social worker, patient advocate, financial counselor, or case manager who can get to know your situation in-depth and help you come up with a financial plan that works for you.

Here are a few questions you can ask about your treatment costs: 

  • What is the estimated cost of my treatment plan?
  • Are there any other available treatments that would cost less?
  • Do you offer payment plans or financial assistance?
  • Under my current insurance plan, how much will I be expected to pay out of pocket?
  • What will my chemotherapy drugs or other medications cost? Are there any pharmacies or patient assistance programs to help cover the cost?
  • How long will I need to be hospitalized?
  • Does my insurer need to preapprove any of the costs of my hospital stay?

Resources

To find resources for financial assistance or affordable options for lung cancer treatment, use the searchable database at the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition.

Summary

Lung cancer treatment costs vary widely, depending on your insurance plan, supplemental coverage, duration of treatment, location, diagnosis, and choice of treatment. It’s important to know the details of your insurance plan, including your premium, deductible, cost-sharing requirements, and out-of-network costs.

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance plans cover many of the costs associated with nonexperimental lung cancer treatment. Additional costs may include travel, transportation, counseling, lost earnings, rehabilitation, household upkeep, caregiving expenses, and more. 

If you have financial concerns about your lung cancer treatment, talk to your oncologist. They can point you toward a variety of resources, including charitable organizations, social workers, case managers, financial counselors, and patient advocates. Before starting treatment, ask questions about the estimated total cost, payment plans, and financial assistance options.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re already wrestling with the lung cancer diagnosis of yourself or a loved one, it can be difficult to think about the costs of lung cancer treatment. Talk to your doctor about meeting with a social worker or financial counselor to connect you with the resources to lower your costs as much as possible. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does insurance pay for chemotherapy?

    Under the Affordable Health Care Act, insurers in the United States are required to cover chemotherapy. However, not all chemotherapy drugs or other treatments are covered in full. There may also be out-of-pocket costs associated with clinic visits and other related services.

  • How much does radiation cost per session?

    The cost of radiation varies widely from location to location and from provider to provider. One 2015 study indicated that the median cost of a course of radiation therapy was $9,000 for lung cancer patients. The patients in the study were covered by Medicare.

  • What is the approximate total cost of stage 4 lung cancer treatment?

    The costs of stage 4 lung cancer treatment vary widely, depending on your insurance plan, supplemental coverage, treatment option, and duration of treatment.

    However, one case study by the American Cancer Society estimated the overall total cost for one stage 4 lung cancer patient who underwent immunotherapy to be around $140,000. The patient’s individual insurance plan (purchased through her state’s insurance marketplace) paid around $132,000, leaving her with about $8,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

19 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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