Cancer cost $94B in lost earnings in 2015

By Kate Madden Yee, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

July 3, 2019 -- In 2015, cancer cost $94.4 billion in lost earnings and took more than 8.7 million years of life among people ages 16 to 84 in the U.S. according to new research from the American Cancer Society (ACS), published online July 3 in JAMA Oncology.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. and is expected to cause more than 600,000 deaths this year, according to the ACS. These deaths have a significant effect on the country's economic health due to productivity losses, but up-to-date data on the extent of the disease's economic effect are needed, the ACS said in a statement.

"Accurate information on the economic burden of cancer mortality can help in setting policies and prioritizing resources for cancer prevention and control," the society said. "However, contemporary data are lacking for the United States nationally and by state."

To address the knowledge gap, a team led by Dr. Farhad Islami, PhD, of the ACS's Surveillance and Health Services Research Program in Atlanta, calculated person-years of life lost using number of cancer deaths and life expectancy data in people ages 16 to 84 years who died from cancer in the U.S. in 2015. The team also estimated lost earnings (the study did not include other costs, such as those for treatment and caregiving). Cancer death data came from the National Center for Health Statistics and annual median earnings from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

The researchers found that in 2015, 8.7 million person-years of life were lost to cancer death in people ages 16 to 84 years in the U.S., translating to lost earnings of $94.4 billion. The group found that lung cancer took the greatest economic toll on society.

Economic cost of cancer, by type
Cancer type Cost
Lung $21.3 billion
Colorectal $9.4 billion
Female breast $6.2 billion
Pancreatic $6.1 billion

Other findings included the following:

  • Lost earning rates per 100,000 people were lowest in the West and highest in the South, ranging from $19.6 million in Utah to $35.3 million in Kentucky.
  • Roughly 2.4 million person-years of life lost and $27.7 billion in lost earnings would have been avoided in 2015 if all states had the same person-years of life lost or lost earning rates as Utah.

The study findings show "large state variation in the economic burden of cancer and suggest the potential for substantial financial benefit through delivery of effective cancer prevention, screening, and treatment to minimize premature cancer mortality in all states," the group wrote.

"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," Islami said in the ACS statement. "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."


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