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Cost of cancer care projected to jump nearly 40 percent by 2020

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cost of cancer treatment projected to rise in next decadeThanks to medical advances in recent decades, many millions more people are surviving for years beyond a cancer diagnosis. These leaps, however, have not come cheap. And with an aging population and expected rising costs in medical care, the financial burden of cancer is expected to rise precipitously in the next 10 years—despite decreasing incidence—according to a new study, published online January 12 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Based on Medicare data and other sources, the new analysis shows that in 2010, cancer care for 16 common types of cancers in U.S. women and 13 common types of cancers in U.S. men tallied up to $124.6 billion.

"Rising health-care costs represent a central challenge for both the federal government and the private sector," wrote the study authors, led by Angela Mariotto of the Surveillance Research Program at the National Cancer Institute. Overall 2009 healthcare costs in the U.S. were about $2.5 trillion, and spending is expected to increase to some $4.6 trillion by 2019.

Climbing cancer costs are likely to contribute to this growth. Even as the incidence rate of many common cancers is expected to continue to drop, with the baby boomers shifting into the over-65 category (the population segment that currently includes some 58 percent of those who have had cancer) and most survival rates continuing to increase, some 18.1 million people in the U.S. are expected to be living with cancer by 2020.

Assuming no increase in the cost of treatment, the total bill will jump about 27 percent in 10 years to $157.7 billion (in 2010 dollars). But, as the researchers noted, "it is likely that new tools for diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of cancer patients will be developed and will be more expensive." As Mariotto and her colleagues explained in the paper, "costs of care for cancer patients who die of their disease follows a ‘U-shaped’ curve, with the highest costs in the initial phase following diagnosis and the phase before death."

With just a modest medical cost climb of 2 percent per year in the early and final phases of treatment, the 2020 cancer care costs could reach $173 billion, representing a 39 percent increase from 2010 levels. But if costs increase 5 percent per year in these two phases, annual costs could spiral out 66 percent to $207 billion.

A 2009 commentary in the same journal pointed to the extreme example of lung cancer drug Erbitux, which cost about $80,000 for an 18-week treatment regime and boosted survival only an average of 1.2 months. Instances such as this have compelled many to encourage clinicians to have more open conversations with their patients about costs and expected benefits of different treatments. 

The largest projected increases in costs are not, however for late-stage cancers, but rather for continuing care for female breast cancer (42 percent increase) and prostate cancer (42 percent increase), the authors noted. Taking these figures alone could help predict coming demand for both specialists and treatments down the road.

One way to help keep costs down, Mariotto and her colleagues suggested, is through the use of genomic testing to help clinicians figure out the most effective treatment for a particular form of cancer. This approach could eliminate trial-and-error testing of various therapies on individual patients. But biomarker tests are currently limited to just a few types of cancers.

In the meantime, the researchers concluded, the new projections should "be particularly useful for policy makers for understanding the future burden of cancer care and for prioritizing future resources on cancer research, treatment, and prevention."

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/ctpaul

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  1. 1. Teklanika1 8:34 pm 01/12/2011

    No question about it: we need universal health care. The Insurance companies be damned.
    Until there is political leadership, this boat has no captain.

    Link to this
  2. 2. ConcernedCitizen 9:33 pm 01/12/2011

    @Teklanika1 ???
    We effectively have universal healthcare now and it will only raise costs!

    Government intervention has given us:
    -Increased costs due to taxes on individual plans
    -Increased costs due to taxes on medical providers
    -Increased costs due to taxes on expensive plans
    -Increased costs due to forced coverage of those who abuse the system and buy insurance only when they have a disease and those terminally ill
    -Increased costs due to government inefficiency and new departments
    -Increased costs due to covering illegals and those too cheap to value their own lives
    -Increased costs due to government prevention of genomic testing

    The things they could have done to reduce costs like reducing paperwork, limiting malpractice lawsuits or allowing genomic testing as this article suggests were the only things they did not do! So how exactly does universal healthcare help reduce these costs? The majority of Americans believe Obamacare is not the answer.

    Link to this
  3. 3. ConcernedCitizen 9:38 pm 01/12/2011

    Great tandem article on genomic testing:
    The government needs to stop protecting us from ourselves. This is an example of big-brother, nanny state intervention at its worst.

    Link to this
  4. 4. quatra 12:40 pm 01/13/2011

    Incredible. By the way, is there somewhere a breakdown of costs that explain the fact that a hospital is much more expensive than most very expensive hotels? I mean, it can’t be the real estate, the old TV set, no carpeting, the bathroom that’s not even up to my grandparents’ standards, the view, the Philippine nurses, the Indian doctors, etc. etc. What is it? How can a short stay end up costing tens of thousands of dollars?

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  5. 5. Wayne Williamson 7:06 pm 01/17/2011

    ConcernedCitizen…just wonder if a 2k USD a month payment is correct for insurance….insurance is supposed to distribute the cost among many…how many people you know have to dish out 24k a year for insurance…

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  6. 6. Wayne Williamson 7:08 pm 01/17/2011

    this is just for one person in her late 50′s….

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  7. 7. Reagan 11:14 pm 11/8/2011

    The high cost of cancer therapy is caused by the FDA. As I see it, we are not using the tested, successful therapies that we have, because good therapies are often not approved by FDA. I am a happy anecdote. When diagnosed 14 years ago with aggressive prostate cancer, my doctor offered immediate radiation. I compared radiation with painless vitamin therapy and chose temporary hormone therapy and high-dose vitamin C, but kept my doctors informed. I am in excellent remission with essentially no side effects. I never had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, pain, worry, or lost body parts. I spent perhaps $1,200 the first year and then less. Radiation would have cost much more and had permanent side effects and pain. I followed the regimens of Cameron and Pauling and of Abram Hoffer.
    I and many others have been beating the FDA restrictions for years. We need not wait for further tests. The above example of bypassing FDA approval applies to many diseases and many substances. Vitamin C is not the only therapy—just a good one. Patients can save money and live longer by choosing suitable therapies. As patients bypass the FDA, they can treat many diseases with over the counter supplements. Cancer and cardiovascular diseases look treatable, and possibly curable.
    If enough patients bypass the FDA, the cost of medicine in the US could drop significantly in a few years.
    Cameron E and Pauling L. Cancer and Vitamin C.
    Cameron E & Pauling L. 1976;73(10):3685-3689.
    Hoffer A. Vitamin C and Cancer,. 2000
    Hoffer A and Pauling L. J of Orthomolecular Medicine. 1993;8:157-167.
    Houston R. Vitamins can kill cancer. 2006

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