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Cancer Costs Expected to Rise

As the Number of Cancer Survivors Rises, So Will Treatment Costs, Researchers Say

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 12, 2011 -- The number of cancer survivors is expected to rise more than 30% to 18.1 million people by 2020, drastically increasing costs of treatment, new research indicates.

A new study by the National Cancer Institute says the number of cancer survivors will increase from 13.8 million over the next decade to 18.1 million, and that associated costs of care will jump 39% from $124.57 billion to $173 billion.

Incidence declined and survival improved for many types of cancer in the 1990s, but care costs rose dramatically.

Angela Mariotto, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute, and colleagues examined costs of 13 cancers in men and 16 in women, analyzing the rates of newly diagnosed disease and survival.

The researchers combined the population rates of people alive with cancer in any given year and cancer costs by phase of care, and used population projections from the U.S. census to calculate care costs through the year 2020.

Cancer Costs Highest Initially and at End of Life

Cancer care costs follow a U-shaped curve, with highest costs occurring after diagnosis in initial phases, and then in the phase before death. Lowest costs occur in the bottom portion of the U.

Among conclusions:

  • Cancer care cost varies significantly according to type of cancer.
  • The per person cost of breast cancer in each phase is among the lowest, but the total cost of breast cancer treatment in 2020 is expected to be the highest, or about $20.5 billion, because of the large number of women who will be living with the disease.
  • The highest increases in costs for cancer care between 2010 and 2020 are projected for breast cancer, up 32%, and prostate cancer, up 42%, because of an increasing proportion of long-term survivors.

"To investigate the impact of specific cancer control strategies on cancer survivorship and to estimate the societal return on investments in cancer research, more complex modeling approaches are necessary," the authors write.

Aging of Population Means Higher Costs of Cancer Treatment

Cancer costs will rise dramatically in the next decade, partly because of the aging of the population, and this is inevitable, the researchers say. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five U.S. residents is expected to be 65 or older in 2030. The authors write that because health care costs will continue to rise, their cost projections may prove helpful to policymakers in understanding the costs of treatment of cancers and the need to prioritize future resources on research, treatment, and prevention.

The study is published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: News release, National Cancer Institute.Mariotto, A. Journal of the National Cancer Institute; vol 103: pp 117-128.U.S. Census Bureau.

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