By Alec Stone, MA, MPA, Public Affairs Director, and Elisa Becze, BA, ELS, Editor

From 2015 to 2030, the costs associated with cancer will rise to $245 billion, researchers said in a report that was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. With more than half a million people dying annually, cancer touches everyone’s life and has rippling financial implications.

“Rising healthcare expenditures are a burden for patients, and cost of cancer care has become a critical topic in patient-provider discussions to facilitate informed decision making,” study author Angela Mariotto, PhD, chief of the Data Analytics Branch at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, said. “Studies quantifying and projecting costs can further facilitate those discussions. In addition, this type of research can help health policymakers better understand the issue of rising costs and can help healthcare providers better plan resource allocation.”

Linking data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid's Medicare data, the researchers estimated cancer-related healthcare costs for survivors aged 65 years and older. The findings linked type of cancer, age, race, and time of diagnosis to higher costs. But phase of care had the largest variability, with end-of-life care accounting for the biggest annual expenditure:

  • End-of-life: $105,500 in medical care and $4,200 in oral prescription drugs
  • Initial diagnosis: $41,800 in medical care and $1,800 in oral prescription drugs
  • Continuing care: $5,300 in medical care and $1,100 in oral prescription drugs

According to coauthor Robin Yabroff, PhD, senior scientific director of Health Services Research at the American Cancer Society, “Patient-provider discussions about treatment options should include not only expected survival, quality-of-life implications, and potential adverse events, but also expected costs of care for different treatments.”

Pre-existing conditions, copayments, out-of-pocket and out-of-network fees, referrals, and surprise billing are all aspects of a broken system that taxes patients more than tenders them. As costs continue to rise and the economy is still unpredictable, people with acute and chronic diseases are caught in the middle of an untenable situation. Policymakers must look to the human and commercial tolls that are in the balance, and oncology nurses can educate them on how to take action. Learn how you can share your patients’ financial toxicity stories by getting involved in ONS advocacy.