High cost of cancer care in the U.S. doesn’t reduce death risk

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Scientists from Yale University and Vassar College found that while the U.S. spends twice as much on cancer care as the average high-income country, its cancer mortality rates are only slightly better than average.

The research is published in JAMA Health Forum and was conducted by Ryan Chow et al.

In the study, the team examined cancer care in 22 high-income countries and found the United States had the highest spending rate.

The U.S. is spending over $200 billion per year on cancer care — roughly $600 per person, in comparison to the average of $300 per person across other high-income countries.

The researchers found that national cancer care spending showed no link to population-level cancer mortality rates.

In other words, countries that spend more on cancer care do not necessarily have better cancer outcomes.

In fact, six countries — Australia, Finland, Iceland, Japan, Korea, and Switzerland — had both lower cancer mortality and lower spending than the United States.

Smoking is the strongest risk factor for cancer mortality, and smoking rates have historically been lower in the United States, compared to other countries.

When the researchers controlled for international variations in smoking rates, U.S. cancer mortality rates became no different than the average high-income country, with nine countries — Australia, Finland, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland — having lower smoking-adjusted cancer mortality than the United States.

The team says more research is needed to identify specific policy interventions that could meaningfully reform the United States cancer care system.

However, they point to lax regulation of cancer drug approvals and drug pricing as two key factors contributing to the high cost of U.S. cancer care.

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