Higher Cancer Costs for Younger Patients?

In the US, cancer treatment is more expensive for patients younger than 65, according to a Kaiser Permanente study.

A Kaiser Permanente study suggests cancer costs in the United States are higher for people under age 65, and costs increase with disease stage. In an analysis published in JNCCN, researchers report that approximately 50% of new cancer diagnoses occur in people younger than 65. Yet, most cost projections are based on Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results–Medicare data, which are typically limited to populations 65 years of age or older.

“It is important to improve our understanding of cancer costs for US adults of all ages. To make our findings as relevant as possible to other researchers and health systems, we focused on the most common cancers in the US across the age spectrum: breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer,” said lead author Matthew P. Banegas, PhD, MPH, a health services researcher with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.

The authors found average 1-year costs for lung cancer ranged from $50,700 (stage I) to $97,400 (stage IV) among patients younger than 65.  The average 1-year costs were $44,000 (stage I) to $71,200 (stage IV) among patients aged 65 and older (reported in 2015 dollars and adjusted for inflation). The 5-year costs followed the same pattern. In general, it was more expensive to treat lung and breast cancers than colorectal or prostate cancers. However, care was more expensive in later stages for all types.

The study evaluated data on 45,522 adults diagnosed with cancer between January 1, 1988 and December 31, 2007 with at least 30 days of continuous health plan eligibility from January 1, 2000 through December 31, 2008. Patients were from Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. 

“We felt there was a major gap in research on cancer care costs,” Banegas told Cancer Network. “The cost estimates in our study can serve as a resource for future research and for policy-makers. Researchers can use our estimates in comparative-effectiveness and cost-effectiveness studies to improve the quality and breadth of their analyses.”

Banegas said these findings will also benefit health system policy-makers and oncology program leaders. The researchers structured their study specifically to help inform stakeholders about potential costs of care for individuals with cancer. “Our findings about the high cost of cancer care for adults under 65 should be of great interest to clinicians, healthcare systems, and employers, as they consider their investments in prevention and early detection for this population to avoid high future costs,” said Banegas.

According to Banegas, the growth in cancer care costs has placed an increased burden on society. A growing body of research shows much of these costs are being shifted to patients and families, leading to severe financial hardships from cancer. Banegas said the healthcare system must address this issue before costs of cancer care become even more unaffordable.