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Cancer Price Tag in Billions for Elders

Study Shows Costs Depend on Cancer Type, Stage of Diagnosis

WebMD Health News

April 29, 2008 -- Medicare costs for cancer are expected to reach $21 billion dollars for five years of care.

That's according to the latest data from the National Cancer Institute. Researchers found that when it comes to paying for cancer care, the price tag may depend on the cancer type, the phase of care, the stage of diagnosis, and whether the patient survives.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute compiled data on about 700,000 people diagnosed with cancer and over a million people without cancer using a national health database and Medicare claims records.

The study examined 18 types of cancer and looked at the how much money was spent on care during certain phases among people who had been diagnosed during 1973-2003 and were 65 or older at some time between 1999 through 2003.

Researchers used the comparison group of people without cancer to project the per patient cost of cancer care. They also used this information to estimate the five-year cost of cancer care in the Medicare population who were newly diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

The study looked at the care of each patient in these three phases:

  • Initial phase -- the year after being diagnosed.
  • Last-year-of-life phase -- the final 12 months before death.
  • Continuing phase -- all the time between the initial and last phases.

Here are some of the findings:

  • For those over age 65 diagnosed in 2004, it's projected that the cost of cancer care to Medicare over five years is $21.1 billion. The aggregate costs were greatest for lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer.
  • The most money was estimated to be spent on the initial and last phases.
  • The lowest amount of money was estimated to be spent in the continuing phase of cancer care.

Looking at cancer types individually:

  • Brain and other nervous system cancers were the most costly for men across the board at each phase of care.
  • For women, brain and other nervous system cancers were the most expensive for the initial and last-year-of-life phase.
  • For women, ovarian cancer was the most expensive for overall phases.

The researchers say it's important to get a projection of what cancer care will cost, especially as the U.S. population ages.

The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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