January 13, 2011

Cancer Costs May Skyrocket by 2020

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The cost of fighting cancer will be a big one as our population continues to grow and age. If predictions by the National Institutes of Health are correct, the disease, which constantly requires advancement in diagnostic, treatment and follow-up tools, may rack up a price tag of $158 million (before inflation) or more by 2020.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have reason to believe that the figure could look something more like $200 billion. These staggering numbers were derived from the most recently available data regarding the incidence of cancer, survival and its cost of care. Taking into consideration the projected fluctuations of this data, the researchers got their numbers by plugging in the corresponding estimated annual increases.

An annual increase of 2 percent would lead to a cost of $173 billion. An increase of 5 percent would lead to a cost of $207 billion.

"Rising health care costs pose a challenge for policy makers charged with allocating future resources on cancer research, treatment, and prevention," lead author of the study, Angela Mariotto, Ph.D., of NCI's Surveillance Research Program, was quoted as saying. "Because it is difficult to anticipate future developments of cancer control technologies and their impact on the burden of cancer, we evaluated a variety of possible scenarios."

The researchers worked to project national cancer expenditures by combining the current number of cancer patients, or "cancer prevalence," with the average annual cost of cancer. Current prevalence was estimated to be 13.8 million cases in 2010, with over half of the patients aged 65 or older. If incidence and survival were to remain stable in the new decade, the amount of cancer survival cases would increase by 31 percent, to 18.1 million.

The researchers predict that the largest increase in survival rates will be seen in Americans in the 65 or older group due to the aging of the population.

"The rising costs of cancer care illustrate how important it is for us to advance the science of cancer prevention and treatment to ensure that we're using the most effective approaches," Robert Croyle, Ph.D., director of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, was quoted as saying. "This is especially important for elderly cancer patients with other complex health problems."

Cost projections were based on the average medical costs needed in the various stages of care, including "first year after diagnosis," "the last year of life," and the time between those two stages. The "last year of life" phase was found to be the most expensive, with more varied per-person costs displayed in the "first year after diagnosis" phase. The latter phase contained the highest costs when brain, pancreatic, ovarian, esophagus and stomach cancers were treated and the lowest when melanoma, prostate and brain cancers were treated.

The researchers used the freshest data available such as 2006 (and below) Medicare Claims data, which includes payments for expensive, specialized therapies. Analyzing these costs, in conjunction with an analysis of the costs in the various phases of treatment, the researchers were able to get a more accurate estimate for the total cost of care.

Source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, January 2011