The Cost called Cancer

Each sitting of chemo-therapy costs at-least Rs. 90,000! Incessant coughing led a Bangalore based patient to get himself tested, result was a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that predominantly affects the lymph nodes and thereby the immune system.

Two months and four chemotherapy cycles later, he had already forked out Rs 5 lakh and expects the final bill to touch Rs 10 lakh. The costs include a lymph node biopsy, a bone marrow test, an endoscopy, a PET scan, special anticancer drugs and six cycles of chemotherapy. Savings were encashed, bonds were broken, credit cards were swiped. Cancer care can get hugely expensive if it is detected late, or if the screening is not proper and if the treatment is not right the first time. It could cost as low as Rs 2.5 lakh for six months of treatment, with some of the lowest priced generic drugs in the world, to as high as Rs 20 lakh, with novel drugs and targeted medicines. Why is cancer treatment so forbiddingly expensive? The main reason is the staggeringly high cost of equipment and setting up a cancer hospital: doctors estimate a 100-bed cancer speciality hospital would need an investment of up to Rs 100 crore, excluding the cost of land in most cases.

Hospitals have to pay a fortune for imported equipment. For example, a linear accelerator, which is used for radiation therapy, costs around Rs 10 crore, plus an import duty of around Rs 1 crore. Similarly, a PET CT scan machine, used to pinpoint the location of cancers, is anywhere between Rs 3 crore and Rs 6 crore. The costliest is a CyberKnife used for radiotherapy which costs around Rs 30 crore. Apart from equipment, cancer treatment medicines are expensive. Such is the reality of this disease and its cure, it becomes an imperative that we find a way to ensure that cancer doesn’t wipe out a patient’s life but also their entire ecosystem and family life.