Cancer Costs on the Rise. Is there an up side?

A new study to be published in the medical journal of the American Cancer Society suggests that the costs of treating cancer almost doubled between 1987 and 2005. This is probably no great shock as medical costs have skyrocketed in the United States during that time period.

The surprise is that the study suggests cancer treatment still represents only 5% of our medical costs.

The conclusion is that the cost increase is not driven by expensive new treatments but rather by a significant increase in the number of cancer patients overall.

This is a function of the aging of our population. Interestingly it appears that health insurers have steadily increased the percentage of care for which they are responsible with a rise from 42% to 60%. In keeping with this patients out of pocket expenses have dropped from 17% to 8%.

Cancer treatment also appears to be less in-patient focused on and more office based. Overall the interpretation of the study is that cancer patients are enjoying greater longevity.

Examination of the data does require a few caveats. The study only goes through 2005 and numerous expensive cancer drugs have been introduced since that time. Second, the study failed to include scans and diagnostic tests which can be quite expensive. Finally, the recent economic downturn had lowered the percentage of Americans to 50% which is the lowest level in 50 years.

Nonetheless, the notion that cancer treatment costs have not increased as a percentage of health care costs while at the same time the life spans of cancer patients has been expanded is good news.