January 13, 2011
Cancer Costs Expected To Rise Substantially

Whereas in 2010 in the United States cancer treatment cost about $124.6 billion in 10 years cancer is projected to cost somewhere between $159 billion to $207 billion per year.

If cancer incidence and survival rates and costs remain stable and the U.S. population ages at the rate predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau, direct cancer care expenditures would reach $158 billion in 2020, the report said.

But will survival rates remain stable? When do cancer treatments finally start making a big impact? When do cancer treatments become less damaging to the rest of the body while also becoming much more able to kill cancer cells?

However, the researchers also did additional analyses to account for changes in cancer incidence and survival rates and for the likelihood that cancer care costs will increase as new technologies and treatments are developed. Assuming a 2 percent annual increase in medical costs in the initial and final phases of care which would mirror recent trends the projected 2020 costs increased to $173 billion. Estimating a 5 percent annual increase in these costs raised the projection to $207 billion. These figures do not include other types of costs, such as lost productivity, which add to the overall financial burden of cancer.

Lots more cancer survivors because of lots more cancer patients.

According to their prevalence estimates, there were 13.8 million cancer survivors alive in 2010, 58 percent of whom were age 65 or older. If cancer incidence and survival rates remain stable, the number of cancer survivors in 2020 will increase by 31 percent, to about 18.1 million. Because of the aging of the U.S. population, the researchers expect the largest increase in cancer survivors over the next 10 years to be among Americans age 65 and older.

Many technologies develop for decades before reaching critical mass in terms of their effects. Look at how the semiconductor technology advances made computers keep growing more powerful until desktop, laptop, and handheld computers became first possible and then widespread. Technologies follow S curves in uptake when they suddenly become powerful and useful enough to enable widespread effective use. I expect the same with anti-cancer biotechnologies. But it is hard to guess when cancer treatments will become highly effective for most cancers.

Is there a way to predict when biotechnologies such as microfluidic devices will enable development of highly selective and effective anti-cancer treatments?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 13 11:07 PM  Biotech Cancer

PacRim Jim said at January 14, 2011 2:21 AM:

Despite decades of research costing hundreds of billions of dollars, our understanding of the human body, healthy or not, is still quite primitive.
Trillions of cells containing tens of thousands of proteins sloshing hither and yon, controlled by poorly understood chemical reactions along a still-mysterious double helix so poorly understood that we still consider it mostly junk.
A brain consisting of 150 or so collaborating modules added over millennia of millennia, surmounted by trillions of neural connections that somehow build, predict, and recall a simulacrum of reality that allows us to survive long enough to reproduce, usually.
This system of systems is vast beyond modeling, beyond simulating, even beyond imagining.
Maybe we humans will understand ourselves by 2100. Maybe.
Then we'll be ready to design Homo sapiens 2.0 and beyond.
(Though you and I will not quite make it to the promised land of (relative) immortality. Some consolation, huh.)

BioBob said at January 14, 2011 2:38 AM:

While I agree that we know much less than we like to think, I would not hazard a guess as to what 90 years of progress will bring except either it will be substantial or we will be on our way out as a species. We are all riding the exponential tsunami of scientific exploration and 90 years is a way long timeline of exponential growth or bust.

Mthson said at January 14, 2011 3:13 AM:

Consider cryogenic freezing if death seems likely. A chance to live again seems better than virtual certainty of no afterlife.

I imagine the more people who do cryogenic freezing, the better the tech gets for the people who come after us.

Mark Plus said at January 15, 2011 7:13 AM:

Skeptical Inquirer magazine published an article about the state of cancer medicine a year ago:

The War on Cancer A Progress Report for Skeptics


I don't know why we bother pretending that modern medicine can "treat" most forms of cancer. Economist Robin Hanson argues from studies like the RAND Corporation's famous health insurance experiment that a lot of modern health care doesn't work, yet we continue to waste resources on it any way because of magical thinking and because it serves as a way of signaling tribal solidarity.

Aki_Izayoi said at January 15, 2011 8:57 AM:


I loved reading the link you provided.

Most cancer treatments attempt merely to prolong life for a few months and such treatment is often exorbitantly priced, so treatment in that case would not significantly affect the death rates of cancer. In such a case, it is likely that an aging population who is more susceptable to cancer would eclipse any salubrious effect.

However, it has been shown that trastuzumab has been able to reduce the recurrence of breast cancer in the adjuvant setting:

"Approximately 31,200 women had HER2+ breast cancer in 2005, of whom 7298 would have had a recurrence over the subsequent 5 years despite standard of care adjuvant treatment. If trastuzumab were added to their regimen, 2791 women might have avoided recurrence, and 948 may have had an asymptomatic or symptomatic cardiac adverse event, for a ratio of expected recurrences to cardiac adverse events of 3.2 (95% confidence interval, 1.5-5.9). In economic terms, avoidance of future breast cancer recurrences was associated with lifetime reduction in future direct and indirect costs on the order of $240 million to $1.7 billion."

This effect, if it is real, would probably reduce death rates.

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