Getting cancer treatment in India
By: Jasmine Marfatia
Published On: October 30, 2018
Know about the expensive costs of cancer treatments in India. Read on!
A research report that was conducted on cancer in India revealed a shocking statistic that 18% of cancer patients reported that they have knowingly delayed medical treatment even after being diagnosed, and the reason was due to financial barriers.
The only thing worse than being diagnosed with cancer is not having the money to treat it. The incidence of cancer poses a severe threat to the lives of people, with 10 lakh new cancer cases reported every year, and 8.8 lakh cancer related deaths are expected per year in the years to come.
Even though there has been significant progress in medical research for cures, medicines, techniques, and medical infrastructure, especially with regards to cancer treatment, why are then so many people still dying from the disease?
The simple answer is that cancer treatment is not affordable by majority of the Indian population. However, it rarely is this simple. In order to understand why cancer treatment is not affordable, we must study the factors that influence the treatment cost for cancer.
To be clear, treatment expenses are rarely the same for different cancer patients, but the factors that affect the cost of treatment may overlap.
Factors that influence the cost of cancer treatment
Type of Cancer Treatments
There are several methods to treat cancer today - radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, transplant are among the commonly known ones. Each of these treatment methods use different drugs, equipment, time, resources and expertise to treat a cancer.
For that reason, they all come with different financial implications. Additionally, the patient's medical history and his/her response to the treatment would affect the cost of treatment as well.
Take for instance radiation, that can cost anything between Rs 10 lakhs to 20 lakhs. Chemotherapy on the other hand, may cost upwards of Rs 65,000 per session, meaning that an average six sessions would add up to Rs 1,95,000. It is to be noted that in many cancer cases, radiation and chemotherapy are given as a combination, in which case the patient would incur the cost of both methods of treatment.
Transplants on the other hand, would be far more costly. A kidney transplant may cost anything between 5 lakhs to 25 lakhs, while a bone marrow transplant would be between 25 lakhs to 50 lakhs.
A heart transplant may be from 10 lakhs to 30 lakhs, and a liver transplant may be priced between 15 lakhs to 25 lakhs. For a detailed comparison of the average cost of major transplants, you may read this link.
Type of cancersThe type of cancer that a patient may be suffering from, would affect the cost of it’s treatment. Medications, procedures, relapse rate, rehabilitation period, etc. may be different for the different types of cancer.
That said, the most common cancer we see today are lung cancer and oral cancer in men, and breast cancer and cervical cancer in women. Colorectal cancer too is on the rise.
A report by the Economic Times estimated that the following were the average costs of treatment for different types of cancer as of 2015:
Lung cancer - 4.6 lakhs
Oral cancer 4.3 lakhs
Breast cancer - 6 lakhs
Cervical cancer - 5 lakhs
Colorectal cancer - 5 lakhs
Stage of cancer and period of treatmentCancer that is diagnosed at its early stages may have a higher rate of treatment success, than those that were diagnosed later. Statistics have shown that 46% of cancer patients are diagnosed at the second stage or earlier, while 18% are diagnosed in the third and fourth stage.
However, the time of diagnosis may not matter in cases where patients deliberately delay getting treated due to financial restrictions. As we mentioned earlier, 18% cancer patients have been known to do that.
Another factor that would affect the cost of treatment is the time duration that the medical team/ oncologist suggests for treatment. For instance, some may need 4-5 chemotherapy/ radiation cycles, while more severe cases would need more cycles over a longer period of time. Additionally, duration's of treatment should also factor in rehabilitation and recovery period/ postoperative care.
Hospital of treatment: private or public facilities68% urban hospitalization and 58% rural hospitalization are in private facilities today. Findings have shown that 45% of cancer sufferers first approach private facilities for treatment, irrespective of their monthly income and savings.
The reasons may be attributed to the following:
Poor patient doctor ratio
Unsanitary conditions in the hospital
Long waiting periods for treatment
Outdated facilities, equipment, and infrastructure
Inadequate supply of medications when needed, due to large number of patients
Financial status of the sufferer
The average monthly income of an Indian household is Rs 13,000. 270 million Indians are below the poverty line, implying they live on anything between 50-80 rupees per day, as per the definition of poverty by the World Bank.
As a result, their scope for savings is slim to none, after taking into consideration their primary expenses of food and shelter. This makes cancer treatment far beyond reach for most of India, and as a result, medical treatment costs are forcing Indians into debt.
Insurance coverage and government schemes
You may be surprised to find that only 27% Indians, that is 35 crore Indians have health insurance coverage. Several families from the lower strata of society are either clueless about medical insurance, or cannot afford it.
Among the 35 crore people who do have insurance, the average coverage is only about Rs. 5 lakh, which is gravely insufficient to cover large medical expenditure such as cancer treatment.On the hand hand, government schemes did bring promise, to help make medical care equal and available to all. Unfortunately, these attempts didn’t suffice. Policies such as the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna, was meant to provide BPL (below poverty line) families of upto 5 people, and insurance scheme upto Rs. 30,000.
This would translate to an expenditure of Rs. 33 per day in urban India, and Rs. 27 per day in rural India. This scheme was futile because it failed to reduce the out-of-pocket expenditure on medical treatment for many reasons:
It was only applicable for inpatient treatment
Low rate of enrollment for the scheme
Lack of a scheme for outpatient treatment.
Subsidized treatment was not given to those without BPL certificate, and many families didn’t have one
A viable solution to the rising cost of cancer treatment in IndiaGiven the failure of several other attempts like insurance, government schemes, grants, and medical loans, most families have come to adopt cancer crowdfunding as the only solution that may rescue them from the burden of piling bills, medication expenses, diagnostic procedures, and doctor’s fees.
With crowdfunding, sufferers and their families get to reach out and appeal to cancer survivor communities, support groups, friends, family, and well wishers from all over the world, to help them afford treatment by making a small and quick online contribution.
There have been thousands and thousands of heart-warming success stories that show that crowdfunding truly is saving people’s lives.
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