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Cancer care costs billions in the United States, mostly in drugs

By on December 22, 2021 0

Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine found that the 15 most common types of cancer in the United States cost an estimated $ 156.2 billion in 2018, with drugs the biggest expense for breast, lung cancer. , lymphoma and colorectal.

Investigators examined a database that included cancer care statistics for 402,115 cancer patients under private insurance under the age of 65 in the United States. The aim of the study was to collect data to help understand how money is spent on cancer care, which is traditionally difficult to track, mainly because the United States has different ways of covering costs. health care costs, such as private insurance for people under 65 and Medicare for people 65 and over.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death, in fact surpassing heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States in recent years,” said Nicholas Zaorsky, MD, MS, researcher and assistant professor departments of radiation oncology and public health. sciences at the Penn State Cancer Institute, in a statement. “But we still don’t know what we’re paying for cancer care. As a team, we wanted to see what private insurance pays for each type of cancer and for each type of service.

Investigators evaluated a database that included 38.4 million types of current procedural terminology codes for 15 cancers, including breast, prostate, colorectal, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, uterus, head and neck, bladder, kidney, thyroid, stomach, liver, pancreas, and esophageal cancers. The cohort study used 2018 data, the most recent full numbers available, from IBM Watson Health MarketScan.

The sample included 27.1 million private policyholders, including patients with the most common cancers.

Breast cancer resulted in the most services, about 10.9 million services and procedures, followed by colorectal cancer, which had about 3.9 million services listed in the database. Breast cancer was also the most expensive type of cancer, with a total cost of $ 3.4 billion, followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer, both of which were estimated to be around $ 1.1 billion. .

Drug costs are the most expensive category for treating cancer patients. About $ 4 billion was spent on cancer drugs, double the $ 2 billion spent on surgeries. Other direct costs included diagnostic tests, hospital costs and physician fees.

Pathology and lab tests accounted for the largest number of services performed in the study, although drug therapies cost more than these services.

Investigators noted that these figures highlight discrepancies in spending associated with different types of cancer, but offer no explanation for these variations.

For example, pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, yet the total cost of care for pancreatic cancer is relatively low compared to indolent prostate cancer.

Future research should seek to determine which services have the most and least value for patients, factors / parameters, etc., which may or may not directly correlate with higher costs. In addition, identifying areas where personal expenditure is high will also be an important part of overhauling the policy aimed at reducing the burden on patients and improving the quality of life of cancer patients.


Zaorsky NG, Khunsriraksakul C, Acri SL, et al. 2018 Medical Services Usage and Cancer Care Fees for Privately Insured Patients Under 65 in the United States. JAMA Netw Open. 2021; 4 (10): e2127784. doi: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2021.27784