If the US population ages at the rate predicted by the US Census Bureau and cancer incidence, survival rates, and costs remain stable, in the year 2020 direct cancer care expenditures will reach $157.77 billion in 2010 dollars, according to projections from National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers.

“Rising health-care costs represent a central challenge for both the federal government and the private sector,” pointed out the NCI’s Angela B. Mariotto, PhD, and her fellow investigators in their writeup of their national cost estimates (J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011;103[2]:117). “The estimates and projections reported in this article may be particularly useful for policy makers for understanding the future burden of cancer care and for prioritizing future resources on cancer research, treatment, and prevention.”

            Dr. Mariotto’s team calculated that cancer-related medical costs would reach $124.5 billion in 2010, based on the most recent available data on cancer incidence, survival, and costs of care from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) and Medicare programs. The forms of the disease associated with the highest costs were breast cancer ($16.5 billion), colorectal cancer ($14.14 billion), lymphoma ($12.14 billion), lung cancer ($12.12 billion), and prostate cancer ($11.85 billion).

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The NCI analysts combined cancer prevalence with average annual costs of care by age (younger than 65 years, or 65 years and older). They estimated that 13.8 million cancer survivors were alive in 2010, and that 58% of them fell into the older age group. If cancer incidence and survival rates remain stable in the coming years, the number of survivors will increase by 31% in 2020, to approximately 18.1 million. The largest increase will be seen in the group of Americans aged 65 years and older due to the aging of the population. An evaluation of survival trends revealed the greatest improvements for prostate cancer, melanoma, and female breast cancer.

Additional calculations showed 2020 costs to increase to approximately $173 billion when factoring in a 2% annual increase in medical costs in the initial and final phases of care, a figure that reflects recent trends.

These estimates do not include lost productivity or other types of costs that add to the overall financial burden of cancer.