UNC study shows breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastatic cancer

Posted at 8:08 PM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 22:16:34-04

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. News 3 is digging deeper into a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study on breast cancer treatment costs, revealing high numbers for one group of women.

This November will mark two years since Lakysha Laing has been in remission for breast cancer. Her fight involved numerous sessions of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I was so fortunate to have people around me that helped me get through it,” Laing said. “My journey has been one of being OK with asking for help.”

News 3 first introduced you to the survivor from Chesapeake last month.

Throughout her battle, she said certain things were covered - and others not.

“When you think about taking care of a household and having to make sure that you have a roof over your head, you have food to eat, having that additional expense to the tune of sometimes $2,000, $3,000, it puts a heavy burden on the household,” Laing said. “Even going through this treatment, that's not something you want to deal with at that time.”

Justin Trogdon is a health policy and management professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He’s also the co-lead author of a new UNC study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing breast cancer treatment costs, particularly among women with metastatic breast cancer.

Trogdon told News 3 the study uses data from patients throughout North Carolina.

“When we do these burden of illness studies, or cost of illness studies, often what we're trying to do is identify populations that we think are important for policy or for improving clinical outcomes,” Trogdon said.

Results showed the largest expected costs were among young women ages 18-44 with metastatic breast cancer.

“It's a combination of both of the willingness to be more aggressive, but then, given a set of treatment, the price of that treatment is often much higher especially for these new cancer fighting drugs for these later stage cancers,” he said.

According to UNC, an example among this particular age group shows the incremental average monthly cost of treating metastatic breast cancer were more than $4,463, compared to monthly costs of $2,418 for treating stage 1 breast cancer.

“It was much higher in what we consider the continuing phase, or sort of after the initial treatment, and also at the end of life,” Trogdon said.

While her cancer wasn’t metastatic, Laing said she was “astounded” by the study and understands cancer can be a financial toll.

“You think about someone who's as young as 21, 25, and they're just getting started with figuring out what they want to do with their life, and then, they're thrust into a breast cancer diagnosis,” Laing said. “To see that, the financial aspect of going through that, impacts them the greatest, it troubled me.”

She and Trogdon both hope the study helps bring awareness.

“This is like the first step in sort of saying, ‘OK, now we know how much it costs,’ and we need to figure out, one, a way to make sure the women themselves aren't being overly-burdened by the cost, and then two, to make sure as a society that we're getting good value for that care,” Trogdon said.