NPR logo Cancer Care Costs Double, But So Does Other Health Spending


Cancer Care Costs Double, But So Does Other Health Spending

Sure, treatments for cancer are expensive. But the biggest factor in a doubling of the spending on cancer care in the last two decades is the increased number of cancer cases, says an analysis just published in the journal Cancer.

Back in 1987, the nation spent about $24.7 billion on cancer care, adjusted for inflation so the costs were equivalent to 2007 dollars. The comparable costs during the early part of this decade: $48.1 billion.

Sounds worse than it is, though. Cancer's share of medical spending is virtually unchanged over nearly 15 years: 4.8 percent in 1987 and 4.9 percent during the period from 2001 to 2005.

What has changed is who's paying. The share of spending increased for private health insurance (to 50 percent from 42 percent) and Medicaid (tripled to 3 percent). 

A couple of other trends seem worth nothing. Lots less cancer care requires patients to be hospitalized, so the share of spending on inpatients dropped to about 28 percent recently from 64 percent in 1987. The change meant actual spending on inpatient care dropped to $13.2 billion from $15.9 billion (in constant dollars).

The shift to outpatient care has apparently helped blunt the increased cost of some treatments, including pricey drugs. But Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society, told USA Today, the costs might have been a lot higher if the surveys were done today because so many expensive treatments have become available recently.