The Cancer of Cost of Cancer

Understanding the explosion of health care cost isn’t rocket science. It is actually a trivial warm-up exercise for the mind: as we eliminated, at least statistically speaking, a growing number of once significant causes of death, more people reach an age where they become more cancer-prone because their genetic coding turns less stable, their immune system deteriorates, and mutations following from many causes are less manageable. Malignant neoplasms, also known as cancers, are the result. Although they account for only about 13% of overall causes of death and likelihood of cancer deaths does not increase with longevity – on the contrary, it declines significantly from a tipping point of roughly 55 years of age – those afflicted today not only stand better chances of successful therapeutic intervention but also are less likely to die of other causes, clearing the way for longer survival rates at significantly higher cost.

As the duration of our ability to control malignant tumor cells increases with the advent of various pharmaceutical and other therapeutic approaches, there is still no cure in sight and cancer has remained a highly complex systemic disease requiring multiple complex balancing acts.

These balancing acts quite often are to be taken more literally than society would like. A small group of specialty pharmaceuticals accounts for roughly 25 percent of all drug-related spending. A cancer patient in need of a few targeted therapies can quickly run up a monthly tab in the five digits.In 2007, the overall costs of cancer — including treatment and indirect mortality expenses (such as lost productivity in the workplace) — was estimated to be $226.8 billion. Pressure is likely to increase and will demand answers to questions society has long shirked as unethical – or, more to the point, politically inconvenient to almost everyone: What price human life? Who is to decide? And how to allocate the expense?