Williams Cancer Institute

Typically your health insurance will not cover the costs of the drugs without FDA approval for your specific form of cancer, but combining immunotherapy with cryoablation or directly injecting the drugs into the tumor can drastically reduce the costs of medications.

“Unfortunately, insurance carriers will almost never provide coverage for a drug used to treat a condition that the FDA hasn’t approved it to treat. That means that if the drug your physician prescribes has not been approved by the FDA to treat the specific form of cancer you have, it may be almost impossible for him or her to offer you a standard immunotherapy treatment that is not directly covered by insurance, even if it may work. Yervoy, for example, may be covered by your insurance carrier for treating certain cases of melanoma, but not for treating other cancers. With a price tag at over $30,000 per infusion—and a course of treatment requiring a minimum of four infusions—it remains a treatment that many patients cannot afford. Bristol-Myers Squibb, the makers of Yervoy, does offer a patient-assistance program that may reduce cost, but it may still be such a steep price beyond the reach of many. There is also the difficulty of finding doctors who may be willing to offer these medications “off-label.” Also keep in mind that we are mainly discussing advanced, Stage IV patients, for which standard therapies may have failed or been of limited success.
Even though the drugs are available outside the United States, where in most cases they would be much less expensive than they are in the U.S., immunotherapy pricing remains fairly steep throughout the world.
But don’t let the price of these drugs discourage you. The key aspect to injecting the drugs directly into the tumor, rather than into the bloodstream, means that even without ablation, it may be possible to achieve the same or better results with a fraction of the dose—and at a fraction of the costs.34 In other words, whereas standard immunotherapy treatment involves infusing the drugs into the bloodstream, by combining immunotherapy with cryoablation or directly injecting these medications into the tumor, the effectiveness of the treatment may be enhanced while the price of that treatment is dramatically reduced.”
Jason R Williams, MD DABR
Chief of Interventional Oncology
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