By Mitzi Baker
Cancer's (Not So) Hidden Costs
Researchers place a monetary value on the time spent being a cancer patient
By Mitzi Baker
The hours that U.S. cancer patients spend waiting for office visits, imaging scans, radiation or chemotherapy and transfusions—not to mention traveling to and from these appointments—now has a dollar value: more than $2 billion combined for the first year after diagnosis.
That figure represents estimated patient time costs in the initial phase of care alone for 11 of the most common cancers, says epidemiologist Robin Yabroff of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute, who led the first study to put a price tag on the time people spend being treated for these cancers. The estimate does not include subsequent years of treatment, or care during the last year of life.
“This is an important new trend, to recognize time that patients spend getting treated as valuable time,” says Cary P. Gross, an internist at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., who studies barriers to cancer clinical trial participation and patient-recruitment strategies.
Many estimates of cancer care costs focus on the price of medical treatment and drugs. The new study—published in the Jan. 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute—illustrates that cancer costs patients more than just the financial cost of treatments and doctor visits. They also lose opportunities in their daily lives: the time they would spend at work, with family and just living a life free of cancer treatment.
Yabroff and her colleagues set out to discover how much extra time the average cancer patient spends on treatment compared with a noncancer patient. The team examined 764,000 Medicare claims filed between 1995 and 2001 for patients 65 and older with 11 types of cancer. The researchers compared the time the cancer patients spent actively getting medical care to that spent by more than 1 million other Medicare recipients without a cancer diagnosis. The calculations do not include days spent at home recovering from treatment, preparation time before a procedure or time spent dealing with health insurance issues.
Using the U.S. median wage in 2002, $15.23 per hour, the researchers calculated the overall cost of time spent seeking cancer care at $2.3 billion for 2005.