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July 10, 2019

The hidden cost of cancer, in 3 charts

Daily Briefing

    Premature cancer deaths cost the U.S. economy more than $94 billion in lost earnings in 2015, according to a study published last week in JAMA Oncology.

    Get 17 tactics to help cancer patients manage their financial responsibilities

    Study details

    For the study, researchers estimated the total amount of earnings the United States lost in 2015 as a result of all premature cancer deaths among U.S. residents ages 16 to 84, as well as total lost earnings tied to the most common cancers in the United States nationally and by state. The researchers based their estimates on life expectancy and cancer mortality data from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and annual median earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 Current Population Survey.


    The researchers estimated that, in the United States, more than 600,000 people died from cancer in 2015. They estimated that more than 8.7 million years of life were lost that year because of cancer deaths among residents ages 16 to 84, which translated to $94.4 billion in lost earnings. According to the researchers, lung cancer resulted in the highest loss in earnings in 2015, at $21.3 billion in losses, followed by colorectal cancer, at $9.3 billion in losses:

    The researchers found that the age at which an individual developed cancer, and the type of cancer they developed, had an effect on estimated lost wages. According to the researchers, lung cancer was tied to the highest amount of lost earnings among individuals ages 40 to 49, while leukemia was tied to the highest amount of lost earnings among individuals ages 16 to 39. Overall, the researchers found individuals ages 50 to 59 who developed cancer had the highest amount of lost earnings, at $31.5 billion, followed by individuals ages 60 to 69 who developed cancer, at $24.3 billion:

    The researchers noted a "large variation" in cancer deaths and lost earnings across the United States, which they wrote "reflec[ts] disparities in the [economic] burden" of premature cancer deaths. For example, the researchers found Kentucky experienced the highest amount of lost earnings from cancer deaths, at $35.3 million per 100,000 people, while Utah experienced the lowest amount of lost earnings from cancer deaths, at $19.6 million per 100,000 people:


    The researchers wrote, "Our findings indicate large state variation in the economic burden of cancer and suggest the potential for substantial financial benefit through delivery of effective cancer prevention, screening, and treatment to minimize premature cancer mortality in all states." They continued, "All states could reduce the burden of cancer and associated geographic and other differences in the country" if their residents have "equitable access" to comprehensive cancer care. The researchers added, "Health care professionals can contribute to achieving this goal because they play a central role in the delivery of cancer prevention, screening, and treatment."

    Cathy Bradley, associate dean for research and deputy director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, said, "These types of analyses help us prioritize where to put our resources. We want to allocate the limited resources we have to diseases and conditions with the biggest impact. And productivity is one way of measuring the impact" (Flaherty, STAT News, 7/5; Japsen, Forbes, 7/3; Harrison, MedPage Today, 7/3; Islami et al., JAMA Oncology, 7/3).

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