JUL 07, 2019 12:23 PM PDT

The price of cancer

Are you ready for some big, scary numbers? In 2015, 492,146 people between the ages of 16 and 84 died from cancer in the United States. That is equivalent to a total of 8,739,939 years of life lost and a subsequent $94.4 billion of lost earnings (or $191,900 per cancer death). These numbers come from a new report by American Cancer Society researchers that was recently published online in JAMA Oncology.

While it might be overwhelming to look at these calculations, having access to numbers like these is extremely important for setting policies and prioritizing resources for cancer prevention and control. This year alone, cancer is expected to cause over 606,880 deaths, making it the second-leading cause of death in the states. A more explicit picture of the public health crisis that is cancer could have significant implications for how money for research and treatment is allocated.

The researcher behind the study is Farhad Islami, M.D., Ph.D., who aimed to provide more accurate reports for lost life years and lost earnings, both nationally and state by state. Note that the numbers above only incorporate the financial losses due to lost earnings, not those due to treatment and caregiving costs.

As reported by Science Daily, nationally, “Lung cancer cost the most in lost earnings ($21.3 billion; 22.5% of total), followed by colorectal ($9.4 billion; 10.0%), female breast ($6.2 billion; 6.5%), and pancreatic ($6.1 billion; 6.5%) cancers. By age, lost earnings were highest for leukemia in ages 16 to 39 while lung cancer was highest in ages 40 and over.”

"Years of life lost and lost earnings were high for many cancers for which there are modifiable risk factors and effective screening and treatment, which suggests that a substantial proportion of our current national mortality burden is potentially avoidable," said Dr. Islami. "Applying comprehensive cancer prevention interventions and ensuring equitable access to high-quality care across all states could reduce the burden of cancer and associated geographic and other differences in the country. Health care professionals can contribute to achieving this goal because they play a central role in the delivery of cancer prevention, screening, and treatment."

Cancer accounts for huge numbers of lost earnings every year. Photo: Pixabay

Islami’s calculations varied greatly by state, with Kentucky experiencing the highest number of lost earnings and Utah experiencing the lowest number of lost earnings. The study hypothesizes that if all states had Utah's lost earnings rate in 2015, lost earnings in the U.S. would have been reduced by 29.3%, or $27.7 billion, and life years lost nationwide in 2015 would be reduced by 2.4 million.

Sources: Science Daily, JAMA Oncology

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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