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 research illuminates a wide discrepancy among the costs of the 11 types of cancer. The shortest treatment times and lowest costs are for melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer, while the longest times and greatest costs are associated with lung, gastric and ovarian cancers (see the sidebar). The variation in treatment times for the cancers likely reflects differences in the typical stage of each at diagnosis, the intensity of treatment required, or the need for close follow-up and surveillance, explains Gross. Cancers that are caught at an early stage usually require less time-consuming treatment. Those diagnosed at late stages often need much more extensive care, taking more out of both a patient’s pocket and schedule.
“One of the reasons that ovarian cancer may require so much time is that it is usually found in the advanced stage,” says Patricia Goldman, a founding member and past president of the Washington, D.C.–based Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. “This study makes the case, even more, for the desperate need for a screening tool.”
The study results may be used to incorporate patients’ time into calculations of the costs of new treatment regimens, says Yabroff. And the time estimates may help patients decide which treatments to pursue, she adds.
According to Elizabeth Lamont, an oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston and another author of the report, “The take-home point is that the costs to patients with cancer, even those with great insurance that pays for all the medications, doctor visits, radiology tests, etc., are substantial when the time they need to spend receiving this care is accounted for.”
“The enormous cost of patient time gets doubled or tripled for those patients who have one or two caregivers accompany them to their therapies, visits and tests,” she says.
“This study is very valuable,” adds Goldman, a 13-year ovarian cancer survivor. “But it doesn’t begin to touch [on] what the total cost is,” including caregivers’ time, lost wages and the price of hiring in-home help.
Yabroff’s group is now looking to address some of the study’s shortcomings. It plans to include new factors, such as estimates of lost productivity and more accurate measures of time spent traveling to treatment.
Even so, one thing can’t be calculated. Says Goldman, “No one can put a dollar figure on the emotional toll.”