US cancer care costs exceeded $156B in 2018, new report finds

In 2018, the estimated cost of care for the 15 most common types of cancer in the U.S. was $156.2 billion, according to research published Oct. 6 in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers from Hershey, Penn.-based Penn State College of Medicine used data from IBM Watson Health MarketScan to analyze how money is being spent on cancer care. They gathered data on cancer care for more than 402,000 privately insured patients under age 65 who had one of the 15 most prevalent cancer types in the U.S: breast, prostate, colorectal, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, uterus, head and neck, bladder, kidney, thyroid, stomach, liver, pancreas and esophagus cancers. 

The research used data from 2018 — the most recent year with complete numbers available. 

Six findings:  

1. The database included 38.4 million types of procedures, totalling $10.8 billion. 

2. Pathology and lab tests made up the highest number of services performed at 11.7 million, followed by medical services at 6.3 million, and medical supplies and nonphysician services at 6.1 million. 

3. About $4 billion was spent on drugs to treat cancer, representing the biggest cancer care expense. 

4. For comparison, about $2 billion was spent on surgeries. 

5. Breast cancer was the most expensive type, costing $3.4 billion. This was followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer, which each incurred about $1.1 billion in costs. 

6. Breast cancer also incurred the most services, accounting for about 10.9 million services and procedures. This was followed by colorectal cancer at about 3.9 million services. 

"This study suggests that, for privately insured patients with cancer, pathology and laboratory services contributed the most to the number of services performed, but medical supplies and nonphysician services contributed the most to spending," researchers said.

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