The cost of treating advanced breast cancer varies depending on the cancer‘s stage and type as well as your treatment plan — but expenses can add up quickly.

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is advanced (stage 4) breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Although this cancer begins in breast tissue, imaging tests may reveal tumors in the bones, brain, liver, and other organs as well.

Some people may already have stage 4 breast cancer at the time of diagnosis. This means it already spread to other areas of the body. Other people may develop MBC months or years after an initial breast cancer diagnosis.

Treatment for MBC is an ongoing process. The longer someone lives with MBC, the greater the cost of treatment.

Here’s how an MBC diagnosis can affect your finances, plus resources to help you find financial support.

Research from 2020 estimates that the monthly cost of treating MBC in women ages 18–44 is about $4,463.

But your unique circumstances with MBC can affect your exact costs.

Each treatment — radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, antibody drug conjugates, or surgery — comes with a different price tag. And that cost can vary based on your insurance coverage, if you have insurance.

How long you undergo MBC treatment can also affect long-term costs.

Keep in mind, too, that your location affects how much you’ll pay for MBC treatments. If you live in an area with a higher cost of living, you might pay more for cancer treatments.

Plus, the treatment itself isn’t the only cost associated with MBC. You may have indirect costs, such as lost wages as well as transportation to and from appointments.

Even after treatment, you may still require ongoing doctor visits, exams, and screenings to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back — all of which cost money.

The exact cost of MBC treatment can vary, and the type of treatment you receive affects how much you’ll pay.

Research from 2016 has explored cost estimates for each MBC treatment type:

  • Chemotherapy: If you receive chemotherapy, the average allowed cost through insurance on the day of chemotherapy is $34,153.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy can cost $12,015 through insurance, and you might have coverage for an additional $3,316 for prescription drugs.
  • Targeted therapy and immunotherapy: Other inpatient and outpatient treatments, which might include targeted therapy and immunotherapy, can cost $20,555 and $33,853, respectively.
  • Surgery: The average allowed cost through insurance for inpatient and outpatient stage 4 breast cancer surgery is $3,180 and $4,480, respectively.

In many cases, hospitalizations related to MBC care can drive up these costs.

Some people who receive an MBC diagnosis will undergo cancer treatment for life, which may add up to 10 or more years of living with the condition. The longer a person lives with cancer and receives treatment, the higher their medical costs, especially if they’re admitted to the hospital. And people are living much longer with all of the new treatment advances for MBC.

In fact, research from 2021 projects that the total costs of MBC care will reach over $152 billion by 2023.

What does health insurance cover?

Coverage varies widely depending on the type of insurance you have.

Many health insurance plans cover breast cancer treatment, but not everyone has prescription plan coverage.

And certain MBC treatments, such as chemotherapy and oral targeted therapy, can be very costly. They are often not covered fully, even if you do have a prescription plan.

Even with good health insurance coverage, many people living with MBC can expect some out-of-pocket costs, especially if you have a high deductible health insurance plan.

The deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance provider pays for a claim. Deductibles vary, but some can be over $18,000 per year for family coverage.

In some cases, you’re also responsible for paying coinsurance. This is a fixed percentage that you pay per claim after meeting your deductible.

It’s important to understand what your health insurance covers and what it doesn’t. Talk with your doctor about options for financial assistance, if needed.

The cost of treatment isn’t the only financial concern related to MBC. A breast cancer diagnosis can affect every area of your life.

The exact cost of indirect expenses can vary based on your individual circumstances, but may include:

  • Doctor visits: Most follow-up visits require a copayment, which tends to range from $15–$50 per appointment, depending on your insurance coverage.
  • Counseling: Taking care of your mental health is important when you have MBC. While most insurance companies cover therapy, you’ll still have a copay for each session. Without insurance, therapy can cost up to $250 per session.
  • Complementary therapies: Options like acupuncture can help ease symptoms and treatment side effects, but may not be covered by health insurance. Acupuncture can cost around $100 per visit.
  • Transportation: Traveling to and from various appointments can tack on extra expenses for gas, tolls, and hospital parking or for public transportation. Additional expenses may come up if you have to stay in hotels or travel longer distances to see a particular specialist.
  • Missed work: MBC can result in over $21,000 of lost wages, whether due to absences or early retirement.
  • Hired help: As breast cancer advances, you might need outside help with housework at an added expense. You might also need additional child care during treatments, as well as at-home care or long-term care.
  • Wigs: A wig can cost anywhere from $30–$3,000 or more. Most insurance companies will cover at least part of the cost, but you may have to pay upfront and submit a claim for reimbursement.

An MBC diagnosis has its financial challenges. However, various strategies can help you better manage costs, including:

  • looking into medication assistance programs offered by many drug companies
  • comparing the price of your medications
  • researching and enlisting in clinical trials for upcoming treatments

You may also want to discuss your options with your care team.

Groups that can offer and help with financial support

Consider reaching out to these breast cancer groups for additional support with treatment costs:

Get the answers to these common questions about breast cancer treatment.

How much does it cost to treat metastatic breast cancer?

The average monthly cost of treating MBC in women between ages 18 and 44 is about $4,463, according to research from 2020 mentioned earlier.

How much does stage 4 breast cancer treatment cost?

It costs around $134,682 to treat stage 4 breast cancer in the first year after diagnosis, according to research from 2016. This includes any procedures, treatments, and related testing. However, it does not account for any associated out-of-pocket costs.

What is the cost of stage 1 breast cancer treatment?

In the first year after diagnosis, stage 1 breast cancer treatment costs around $60,637. That cost includes procedures, treatments, and testing, but it does not cover other related out-of-pocket expenses.

What if you can’t afford breast cancer treatment?

Ask your doctor about your options for financial support.

Many drug companies offer patient assistance programs. Various advocacy groups, like the American Cancer Society, also offer financial assistance. Or you may be a candidate for a clinical trial, where you’d receive advance access to a new drug that hasn’t yet been made available to the public.

Between MBC treatment, follow-up appointments, and other indirect costs, the financial aspect of living with MBC can be daunting. And some people may live with MBC for 10 years or longer, during which costs add up over time.

Health insurance covers breast cancer treatments, but it doesn’t cover everything. Understanding what’s covered under your individual plan can help you plan for expenses.

If you’re worried about out-of-pocket costs, talk with your doctor. You might qualify for financial assistance through several organizations.