A Mother and her Two Daughters

16 April 2010

The Economics of Cancer

Because today is “tax day” it seems only appropriate to have money on the mind; and today I did.  After emailing Bo the very last piece of information he needed to finalize my tax package, I decided to do a little research on the economics of cancer.  Here is what I discovered. 
·      Cancer is a very common life threatening disease.  One in three people will develop some form of cancer, while 1 in 4 will die from the disease.  In fact, cancer is expected to become the nation’s #1 cause of death within the decade, surpassing heart disease. 
·      Cancer treatments and diagnostics are increasingly costly.  In fact, the average cost to produce a new cancer drug ready for FDA review is approximately $1 BILLION.  Unfortunately, only 8% of these new drugs are given final FDA approval. 
·      While the United States spends $2 TRILLION on healthcare per year (2007), we spent $89 BILLION for direct medical costs to treat cancer.  If we factor in the indirect costs, the total costs for treating cancer in America are at $219 BILLION. 
·      Cancer drugs account for 10% of health care spending. 

That’s lots of money for only one disease.  But here’s the disappointing news.  The U.S. government has doled out more than $75 BILLION for oncology research since President Richard Nixon declared his War on Cancer in 1971.  Investment and outlays by the pharmaceutical industry have been far greater.  Yet the death rate from cancer has dropped by only 7% in the past three decades, with most of that progress in the last few years. 

Then there is the debacle found within the Food & Drug Administration – far too much to write about today.  More on that later . . .

Cancer Costs for Cancer Patients
While the overall cost for treating a typical breast cancer will top $50,000 or even $100,000, the total bill for breast cancer treatment widely varies by the cancer diagnosis and treatment required.  In my case, my total costs for hospital care and cancer treatment are coming close to exceeding the “typical costs.”  And remember, I’m only two months into my diagnosis, have completed only 3 out of 8 chemo treatments, have still not had surgery.  Some might say, “that’s too much.”  And I say, “THIS IS MY LIFE, I have insurance, and it’s none of your business.” 

But here’s more startling news:  1 in 5 cancer patients WITH INSURANCE will use up all or most of their savings during the course of treatment. 

Individual patients are increasingly feeling the cost of cancer through insurance premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, tiered formularies, and Part D donut holes.  Due to the mounting costs, patients are making cancer treatment decisions based on out-of-pocket expenses.  How unfortunate.  In fact, a survey conducted by USA Today and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 33 percent of cancer patients have trouble paying medical bills and 43 percent report skipping treatments or not filling prescriptions because of the cost.  For millions of people with cancer, there is little hope when the costs of treatment are more than they can afford

As I continued my research on this topic, I realized that entire books have been written about the costs of cancer – to society and to the individual patients.  And today I’m not up for writing a book, especially one on anything to do with economics.  So I will close this post with this:

First – always participate in any kind of cancer screening that is available in your community.  Without a doubt, detecting cancer early is the surest way to control costs and prolong life. 

Second, in addition to hospitals like UAMS who will work with patients to negotiate bills and payments, there are some very good and charitable organization in the US that can help with the costs associated with diagnosis and treatment. 
·      At the American Cancer Society Web site, you can enter your zip code or call 1-800-ACS-2345 to find out where to get a free mammogram.
·      The National Cancer Institute can be reached at 1-800-4-CANCER, and the representatives can tell you where to find a center for a free mammogram.
·      The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program is designed to provide access to mammography and related services, including breast biopsy and treatment, through local providers. The program works differently in each state, so check the specifics for your area.
·      Breastcancer.org has advice on how to pay medical bills.
·      The Susan G. Komen Foundation provides a listing of organizations to which they have granted funding, so call to see what services might be available in your area.
·      YWCA Encore Plus Programs provide services on a sliding scale. Screening mammography is available to women 35 years and older who are medically underserved. Call 1-800-95-EPLUS (1-800-953-7587).
·      At the American Breast Cancer Foundation you can apply for mammogram assistance.

Today has been a good day for me.  I spent some time working on insurance paperwork and did some research and writing for a new client project.  Tonight a few of my CJRW colleagues, led by the legendary Buckband, came by after work and really lifted my spirits high.  It was much fun.  Tomorrow I will have lunch with my longtime partner in crime Jim, and this weekend I look forward to spending time with some of my best friends in life during Hendrix Alumni Weekend.  Jim is already here from DC, Dennie is making the trip from Florida, and Jay flies in Saturday from Dallas – and there will be more.  It is my many dear friends who keep me going each and every day.  I feel the love and, in the end, I'm going to win!  


  1. I hope you're planning to turn this into a book! I'm sitting in the computer lab, not bawling today, but thinking also about the non-drug, non-costly ways to deal with cancer, both to prevent and treat. Will be so glad when we find better ways of dealing with this huge problem.

  2. For example, when my friend Jim had advanced 4th stage colon cancer, he was on radiation and chemo. He would get nauseous and throw up. Drugs were problems, but marijuana was a dream - stopped the nausea, didn't make him constipated, but did make him hungry (yes!). But you can get arrested for using marijuana for real health problems. So when can we see more of these "creative", cheaper, approaches explored? Or do the drug companies (and the FDA) prevent this for fear of losing money?

  3. Since I'm unemployed and uninsured, I found I qualify for the Arkansas Breast Care program: http://www.arbreastcare.com/ A few months ago, I received a free exam, mammogram and pap test. They partner with local providers for the mammogram, so I was able to have mine at my usual clinic, where they have all my previous records.

    The results were sent directly to me.

    You'll notice the program also pays for followup testing and treatment if necessary.

    That's our state tax dollars at work ... in a positive way!!!


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