The Rising Cost of Cancer Care

A recent study found that the cost of cancer care in the United States, which was estimated at $183 billion in 2015, is projected to exceed $245 billion by 2030, an increase of more than 30 percent.

Rising cost of cancer care

About 1.8 million people in the United States will receive a diagnosis of cancer this year, and many are asking their doctors, how much is this going to cost?

The individual answer varies tremendously, of course, according to insurance status and a variety of other factors. But one thing is for sure: The overall cost of cancer care in the United States is rising, a recent study reported. 

“Rising health care expenditures are a burden for patients, and costs of cancer care has become a critical topic in patient-provider discussions to facilitate informed decision-making,” said Angela Mariotto, PhD, chief of the Data Analytics Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, and lead author of a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The researchers estimated the costs of cancer care by analyzing the NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry along with Medicare enrollment and claims data. They included individuals 65 years and older who had received a cancer diagnosis between 2002 and 2012, and they estimated the annual cost of cancer care by comparing records from patients with a history of cancer with matched individuals without a history of cancer.

Cancer medical costs were the most expensive in the end-of-life phase of treatment  for patients who died from cancer, with an average cost of more than $100,000 per patient during the final year of life. Among patients who died from cancer, cancer costs in the end-of-life stage varied considerably by cancer site, ranging from $71,300 for those with prostate cancer to $239,400 for those with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Oral prescription drug costs were also the most expensive for patients in the end-of-life phase who died from cancer, with an average cost of $4,200 per patient during the final year of life. Oral prescription drug costs ranged from $600 for those with cervical and uterine cancer to $24,000 for those with myeloma.

To project national cancer-attributed costs, the researchers combined their per-patient estimates with cancer prevalence projections, based on aging and population changes. To incorporate cancer survivors of all ages, the researchers included cancer prevalence and population data from those younger than 65, and adjusted the cost estimates to reflect the higher costs of cancer care among younger individuals.

Dr. Mariotto and her co-authors estimate that the national cost for cancer care will exceed $245 billion in 2030, up 34 percent from 2015. 

“Our projections of the total costs of cancer care are substantial,” noted Dr. Mariotto. “The number of people diagnosed with cancer increases with age, and an aging population means that the number of cancer survivors will increase, which is accompanied by significant cost.” 

Patients should discuss cost of care with their health-care providers, along with treatment options and quality of life implications, added study author Robin Yabroff, PhD, senior scientific director of Health Services Research at the American Cancer Society.

“For patients with cancer who are working, these discussions should address how treatment affects the ability to work, especially if the patient’s health insurance coverage is through their employer,” she said.