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Report: Cost of Cancer Is Becoming Unaffordable

December 8, 2011

The cost of cancer is rapidly becoming unsustainable in many developed countries, according to panel of 37 experts contributing to a new report in the The Lancet Oncology.

To keep costs from spiraling ever upward, the experts said that some tough calculations about cancer treatment would have to be made going forward, like determining the value of using expensive new therapies to prolong patients' lives by only months.

Already, 12 million people worldwide receive a cancer diagnosis each year, with an associated price tag of $286 billion in medical costs and lost productivity. By 2030, that number is estimated to increase to 22 million people each year, with a comparable rise in costs. More than half of the cost is attributable to medical care.

The overall increase is being fueled by rising cancer rates in an aging global population, along with increasingly advanced and expensive new cancer drugs and high-tech diagnosis methods, the expert panel found. They said that experts, patients, insurers, policymakers, drug companies and the health industry had to work together to lower costs without compromising care.

"We are at a crossroads for affordable cancer care, where our choices, or refusal to make choices, will affect the lives of millions of people," said Richard Sullivan, a professor at King's College Integrated Cancer Centre in London, who presented the report to the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm.

Other factors that increase costs in wealthy countries include overuse of unnecessary tests and the use of expensive diagnostic equipment. Overhauls of patient treatment models and health-care reimbursement models that affect doctors' incentives for using certain treatments or diagnostics are necessary, the panel said.

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