Costs for Treating Cancer in U.S. Double in Less Than 20 Years

Between 1987 and 2005, the estimated cost of treating cancer in the United States has doubled, according to a recent study published in the journal, Cancer.

Adjusting for inflation, the total cost of treating cancer within the United States in 1987 is estimated at $24.7 billion. Between the periods of 2001 and 2005, that same figure is estimated at $48.1 billion.

Prior to the study, many researchers surmised that cancer costs were rising largely due to the increased cost of cancer drugs. However, new insight suggests that the actual increase is due the aging U.S. population and an increased number of people who are being diagnosed with cancer.

Even more surprising, is the fact that the increase in cancer costs remains in line with spending across the entire heath sector. Despite massive increases in cancer spending, it is estimated that treatment as a percentage of overall medical treatment has remained stagnant at five percent. Of course, this suggests that medical spending as a whole has also increased twofold.

While treatment of cancer is still far from affordable for many patients, the report does suggest that individual patients are paying less out of pocket than they were two decades ago. The study finds that private insurers now cover about eight percent more of treatment costs than they did in 1987 (up from 42 percent to 50 percent). Conversely, it was found that out-of-pocket payments by patients dropped from 17 percent to eight percent.

The findings reported in the Cancer journal are based on national telephone surveys performed in 1987 and between 2001 and 2005. Data culled from the more than 164,000 participants related to medical conditions and how payments for treatment were covered.

A shift from in-hospital cancer care to outpatient care has also been noted. Researchers report that costs associated with inpatient care dropped from 64 percent in 1987 to about 27 percent.

While out-of-pocket costs for patients seem to be dropping, experts are concerned that the growing number of costly cancer drugs that have come to market since 2005 may reverse that trend. Additionally, newer treatment technology and the need for larger testing pools may also result in increased costs for current cancer patients.