Short Takes On News & Events

Study: Higher U.S. Costs For Cancer Care May Be ‘Worth It’

By Sarah Barr

April 9th, 2012, 4:20 PM

Higher U.S. spending for cancer care pays off in almost two years of additional life for American cancer patients on average compared to their European counterparts — a value that offsets the higher costs –according to a study in the April issue of the journal Health Affairs.

While previous studies have suggested U.S. cancer patients have better survival prospects than their European counterparts, the researchers wanted to examine whether those prospects justify higher U.S. costs. To do so, they translated the longer lives of U.S. patients into dollar amounts using a conservative estimate of the value of a human life year — in the context of the tradeoffs people are willing to make to reduce their risk of death — and compared those amounts to U.S. spending on cancer care.  The method does not take into account quality of life or individuals’ earnings.

“We found that the value of the survival gains greatly outweighed the costs, which suggests that the costs of cancer care were indeed ‘worth it,’” the researchers wrote in the study. They cautioned the findings do not prove that all treatments are cost-effective or a that a causal link exists between spending on cancer care and survival gains.

The study found that the longer lives of U.S. patients were worth an average value of $61,000 per individual, or $598 billion total, in constant dollars, for those diagnosed between 1983 and 1999 — more than the additional amount the U.S. spent on treatment compared to other countries.

Michael Eber, a senior analyst at Precision Health Economics, a health care consulting company, and a co-author of the study, said that the findings point to the need for further research into what drives the survival differences between U.S. and European patients.

“It calls for a closer look at the value of individual treatments and interventions,” he said.

For the study, the researchers looked at the survival outcomes for U.S. patients compared with those from 10 European countries and found that for most cancer types, U.S. patients lived longer.  Specifically, from 1995 to 1999, U.S. patients lived an average of 11.1 years after diagnosis, while European patients lived 9.3 years. The researchers used those numbers as a baseline and based their findings on how survival gains improved in each country over time.

They also found that from 1983 through 1999, U.S. spending increased from $47,000 to $70,000 per cancer case, while in the 10 European countries, spending on cancer care increased from $38,000 to $44,000 per case. The additional U.S. spending during that time period on the kinds of cancer the researchers examined totaled $158 billion.

4 Responses to “Study: Higher U.S. Costs For Cancer Care May Be ‘Worth It’”

  1. Journe says:

    First, majority of cancers, noone knows YET (except the Pentagon) where and how anyone gets cancer. Enviromental Toxins is a big answer. This affects what we breath, what we drink, what we eat. It includes Our OLD Nuclear Power PLants in desperate need of repair of leaky, rusted old pipes that leak radiation into our ground soil, ground water and if on the coast goes into our ocean waters for the Fish to have that we eat.
    NO repairs Planned and they continue to get 20 years of relicensing. Plus NO Nuclear Waste Dumps. Plus Heavy Pesticides/Herbicides in our food and soil and animal feed.
    Plus added toxins into our drinking water. THEN we GET to the Medical CURE of cancers that noone really knows much about. SO body gets radiated at doses that Technicians and Radiologists know little about, thus Radiation poisonings. Then it is the Chemo Drugs. IF you have a Known Terminal Cancer, you get talked into these wicked medical treatments that give you serious physical sick side effects for months, that you would at least DIE without these if you didn’t get this treatment and at least have some functioning months to live. Doctors will give these “treatments” even when they know you will die in a few months anyway. WHY?? Is it Greed? Is it a learning process for them?”?? Sure isn’t for the patient sake. Even if possible to cure some type of cancer, they don’t tell you, you surely will have another cancer within 10 years. So it is never a cure, but perhaps a relief for awhile if lucky. They don’t tell the real truth!!!!
    Take care of Business, eat well, rest, exercise whatever you can, vitamins…talk with doctor but you don’t HAVE to do what they say. Find the Truth and You decide what you want to try in regards to treatments. ONE reason for Increase in Pain Pills, that is the Side Effects of Medications you get and not told about, the lack of any doctor paying attention to your Real Complaints, thus More Pain, More Pills for pain!!! AND with so much Cancer, So much side effects, One needs Pain Pills and should have them and should be monitored that not being Refilled ahead of time. Majority of doctors are on Pain medications themselves and/or alcohol…so who are they to deny pain relief if it is really needed?? There are other Home/Self Remedies for Pain you can do also. Talk to a good Alternative Medicine Doctor. Medicare NOW under Obamacare recommends
    Pallative Care for Terminal Cancers, and NOT Medical Treatments IF you are terminal, too old, too sick etc…All about saving money, but also they know it doesn’t work. This is ALL MY Opinion, according to my experience, knowledge, reading and many personal dead friends that have never questioned what was being put into their bodies or why.

  2. JN says:

    I think it’s important to always note who paid for the study.


  3. Keith Marton says:

    Extra years of life is not the key determinant of value. It’s whether a person has a longer life expectancy. If US patients gained 2 years of life because their cancers were diagnosed 2 years earlier, but died at the same age as their European counterparts, then their treatment’s only value was to extend the length of time that they knew they had cancer. It’s not clear that the study makes this distinction. Given that the 2 cancers that showed the biggest advantage were prostate and breast, where the US is the most aggressive in screening (and thus prone to earlier diagnosis but without improved survival benefit), this bias may well account for the apparent benefit.

  4. Mike says:

    I find it troubling that this story seems to be copied and pasted as though it were a news story. Yet there is no mention of the author’s connections to free market think tanks or that funding came from the pharmaceutical industry.

    Reuters had experts look at the study and comment: “Experts shown an advance copy of the paper by Reuters argued that the tricky statistics of cancer outcomes tripped up the authors.

    “This study is pure folly,” said biostatistician Dr. Don Berry of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “It’s completely misguided and it’s dangerous. Not only are the authors’ analyses flawed but their conclusions are also wrong.”"

    Sarah Barr, please do some fact checking before the copy and paste!