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Cancer treatment cost doubles since 1987

The cost of cancer treatment almost doubled between 1987 and 2005, according to a new study

The cost of treating cancer in the US almost doubled between 1987 and 2005, with private insurers taking on a greater share of the cost, new data has found.

The research led by Florence Tangka, a health economist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared data from 1987 to 2001-2005.

In 1987, the total cost of cancer care was $24.7bn: funded 42 per cent by private insurance, 34 per cent by Medicare. By 2001-2005 the costs had risen to $48.1bn: funded 50 per cent by private insurance, and again 34 per cent by Medicare – marking a decline in patients' out-of pocket costs.

The study concludes that the rising costs were mainly driven by the growing number of cancer patients, not increased cost of treatments as some had assumed. Additionally it suggests much of the spending has moved to outpatient treatment and away from inpatient care.

The research also showed that cancer accounts for only five per cent of the total US medical costs and that has not changed in the last few decades.

Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society said he was "surprised" by the results as he would have expected the proportion of cancer costs to rise. However, he noted that the cost of treating cancer would be significantly higher today as more expensive treatments have been approved since 2005.

The study is the first to combine US national cancer costs for all types of payers to see how they have changed over time. The figures are reported in 2007 dollars.

11th May 2010

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