The Cost Of Skin Cancer: Diagnosis, Treatment, And Care

When you receive a diagnosis of skin cancer, the last thing you want to think about is the financial implication. There is not only the cost of the treatment itself but also the unknown costs of time away from work and extra support to factor in.

The cost of a skin cancer diagnosis will vary greatly depending on what type of skin cancer it is, where it is on your body, and how advanced it is.

Generally, non-melanoma cancers (basal cell carcinoma, BCC, and squamous cell carcinoma, SCC) are cheaper to treat than melanomas, especially if they are caught early.

Skin cancer on your face might cost more to treat than if it were on another body part, for example, your back. You would want the more expensive tissue-saving surgery for your face, while your back, which you can cover up, can be treated with cheaper, more basic surgery.

The earlier you can catch your skin cancer, the more cost-effective it is to have it removed. It may well be good to bear this in mind when deciding whether you should go for a screening exam.

Have you considered clinical trials for Skin cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Skin cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Screening costs

Americans have had access to free skin cancer screening¹ since 1985. Your first choice would be to use this service; however, if you are unable to, or if you need to be seen urgently, you may want to visit your doctor for skin screening.

If your screening visit results in the detection of a suspicious lesion, your next port of call would be your general practitioner (GP) or dermatologist (depending on the nature of the lesion).

If you want to book your screening appointment with a GP, it will cost between $100 and $200 if you pay privately². If you have a health insurance plan, it will cost less depending on the type of plan and what your copayment is. 

A visit to a dermatologist can cost around $268³, but what you pay will again depend on whether you are paying privately or if you have insurance. 

If screening reveals a suspicious lesion, you may need a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. The cost of the biopsy and the pathology laboratory costs will be over and above the screening costs.

Obviously, costs can vary between regions and depend on how complex your pathology is. Whatever you pay for screening, however, is likely to be much cheaper than what you will pay for treating skin cancer.

Treatment costs

A 2007 study⁴ from the Archives of Dermatology estimated the costs for treatment of a stage I melanoma to be around $1,732 compared to approximately $56,059 for a stage IV melanoma. These figures are outdated but do show the huge difference in cost when skin cancer is caught early versus when it’s caught late.

The following gives an estimate of the cost of some common treatments for skin cancer⁵. You will need to discuss with your GP or specialist which treatment is best for you and what the specific costs will be. 

Health insurance coverage

Skin cancer treatment is almost always covered by your health insurance, but it’s always worthwhile to check with your doctor and insurer prior to commencing treatment. Certain drugs or procedures may not be covered or may require a copayment.

Health CostHelper⁶ estimates the total cost of treating skin cancer to range from $400–$50,000 if you do not have health insurance. With health insurance, you can expect to pay copayments of anything from 10%–50% of the cost, depending on your health insurance policy.

If you need to have reconstructive surgery, such as a skin graft, following removal of skin cancer, the costs should be covered by your health insurance.

What if you have no health insurance and can’t afford to pay for skin cancer treatment?

1. Find a low-cost or free clinic using services such as:

  • Find a clinic - National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics

  • Find free and low-cost clinics near you - Partnership for Prescription Assistance

  • Find a health center - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • Free/low-cost/sliding-scale clinics - Needy Meds

2. Use an online service⁷ to see if you can find a dermatologist near you who will see you for free or for a discount. Explain to your dermatologist that you don’t have health insurance and ask if they will offer a discount.

  • Explain that you had a skin cancer screening and the screener found a spot that could be skin cancer.

  • Ask how much it will cost for an office visit with a discounted bill.

  • Ask for an estimated cost if the dermatologist needs to perform a procedure like a skin biopsy.

  • If you cannot afford the fee, ask for a referral to a dermatologist or clinic that can help you.

3. If you need help with affording the cost of medication, the following organizations may help:

  • The Partnership for Prescription Assistance

  • RxAssist

  • RxHope

  • Together Rx Access

Hidden costs of skin cancer

When looking at what it costs to treat skin cancer, it’s not only the cost of the treatment that has to be taken into account. There is also the cost of missed workdays, possible travel expenses, potential child care expenses, and a host of other costs that are almost impossible to factor in.

A study⁸ in Canada in 2018 looked at the hidden costs of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). The authors divided costs into direct costs (treatment costs and out-of-pocket expenses), indirect costs (lost workdays and decreased productivity), and intangible costs (monetary value of the loss of health-related quality of life).

The estimated direct costs involved in treating BCC were $401 per case, while the indirect and intangible costs were $202. The direct cost of treating SCC was estimated to be $4,379 per case and the indirect cost was $2,978.

In simple terms, it’s not only the cost of the treatment that you need to consider, but you need to add at least 50% more onto that to cater for indirect and intangible costs.

The difficulty with estimating the cost of skin cancer is that it is so variable depending on the type and stage of cancer. The hidden cost of removing a very early SCC will probably just be the time cost of a single consultation. The hidden costs of a stage IV melanoma requiring multiple hospital visits and recovery time off work will be far more.

Financial support

The last thing that you need after getting a diagnosis of skin cancer is the added burden of financial stress.

If you are feeling lost or overwhelmed, or if you are thinking of ignoring your cancer diagnosis because you can’t afford treatment, or even if you just have no idea where to begin to look for support, the Robin’s Nest initiative offers wonderful guidance.

The program provides you with a carefully curated list of organizations that offer assistance with insurance, health care costs, transportation, coping support, and other issues that arise with a skin cancer diagnosis.

Find more organizations and charities supporting skin cancer awareness here.

Have you considered clinical trials for Skin cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Skin cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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