Cancer Deaths Cost the United States Billions

July 9, 2019
Leah Lawrence
Leah Lawrence

A new study estimated that cancer deaths in 2015 resulted in billions in lost earnings in the United States.

A new study estimated that cancer deaths among people age 16 to 84 years in 2015 resulted in lost earnings of $94.4 billion. The amount of lost earnings varied greatly, with higher rates in the South and lowest rates in the West, the study showed.

“Implementation of comprehensive cancer prevention interventions and equitable access to high-quality care across all states could reduce the burden of cancer,” wrote Farhad Islami, MD, PhD, of the Health Services Research Program, American Cancer Society, and colleagues, in JAMA Oncology. “Health care professionals can contribute to achieving this goal because they play a central role in the delivery of cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.”

Islami and colleagues conducted this study in an attempt to update information on the economic burden of cancer mortality in the United States. They estimated person-years of life lost using data on cancer deaths and life expectancy in individuals age 16 to 84 who died from cancer in the United States in 2015. Annual median earnings were assigned by age and sex.

In 2015, there were 492,146 cancer deaths translating to 8,739,939 person-years of life lost to cancer in this age group. This number of person-years of life lost equated to lost earnings of $94.4 billion, with a rate of $29 million per 100,000 persons. The average lost earnings per cancer death was $191,900.

By disease site, the highest total lost earnings was in lung cancer ($21.3 billion; 22.5% of total), followed by colorectal ($9.4 billion; 10%), female breast ($6.2 billion; 6.5%), and pancreatic ($6.1 billion; 6.5%) cancers.

On a state-by-state basis, the age-standardized lost earning rate in million dollars per 100,000 ranged from a low in Utah of $19.6 million to a high in Kentucky of $35.3 million. Southern states had the highest age-standardized lost earning rates, followed by the Midwest. Western states had the lowest age-standardized lost earning rates, followed by the Northeast and Hawaii.

“Differences in the prevalence of potentially modifiable risk factors could, in part, explain geographic variations in age-standardized person-years of life lost and lost earning rates,” the researchers wrote. “For example, consistent with our results for lung cancer, smoking prevalence among men in the United States is highest in the Southern states and lowest in Utah.”

The researchers estimated that approximately 2.4 million person-years of life lost and $27.7 billion in lost earnings could have been avoided in 2015 alone if all states had the same rate as Utah.

“By quantifying the economic burden of premature mortality due to cancer, our findings highlight state-level disparities and indicate that preventing premature cancer deaths would have substantial economic benefit nationally and for all states,” the researchers wrote.