Cancer expected to cause 600,000 deaths in 2019 as estimates show US economy lost $94 billion in 2015 due to disease

Cancer expected to cause 600,000 deaths in 2019 as estimates show US economy lost $94 billion in 2015 due to disease

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, and premature deaths from it cost the American economy massively in lost earnings every year. More than 8.7 million years of life were lost to cancer deaths, translating to $94.4 billion in lost earnings among people aged 16 to 84 years in 2015, the latest estimates say.

Cancer is projected to cause over 606,880 deaths in the US in 2019, according to a new report by researchers from the American Cancer Society. 

“Cancer deaths impose a significant economic burden in the US because of productivity losses due to premature death. A common approach to assess this burden is to estimate the loss of future earnings due to cancer death. This measure - termed as lost earnings - is based on person-years of life lost and expected earnings during those years. Person-years of life lost incorporate age and residual life expectancy at death to represent the average number of years a person would have lived in the absence of cancer. Thus, deaths at younger ages are associated with higher person-years of life lost and, consequently, greater lost earnings”, explains the research team. 

Person-years of life lost were calculated by multiplying the number of cancer deaths in each age and sex group by corresponding residual life expectancy. According to the analysis, 4,92,146 cancer deaths occurred in people aged 16 to 84 years in the US in 2015, translating to a total of 8,739,939 life years lost. Overall lost earnings, the findings say, were $94.4 billion, and $191,900 per cancer death. “Lost earnings were $29.0 million per 1,00,000 population overall,” the researchers say. 

Lung cancer cost the most in lost earnings ($21.3 billion; 22.5% of total), followed by colorectal ($9.4 billion; 10.0%), female breast ($6.2 billion; 6.5%), and pancreatic ($6.1 billion; 6.5%) cancers. By age, lost earnings were highest for leukemia in ages 16 to 39, while lung cancer was highest in people aged 40 to 49 years. Lost earnings per 1,00,000 population varied considerably by state, ranging from $19.6 million in Utah to $35.3 million in Kentucky. “States with the highest age-standardized lost earning rates were in the south, followed by the states in the midwest. States with the lowest age-standardized lost earning rates were in the west, northeast, and Hawaii. If all states had Utah’s lost earnings rate in 2015, lost earnings in the US would have been reduced by 29.3%, or $27.7 billion, and life years lost nationwide in 2015 would be reduced by 2.4 million,” says the paper. 

According to the research team, the years of life lost and lost earnings were high for many cancers for which there are modifiable risk factors and effective screening and treatment. Modifiable risk factors include smoking, excess body weight, physical inactivity, and dietary factors. This, the researchers say, suggests that a substantial proportion of deaths due to cancer can be avoided by making lifestyle and nutritional changes. For instance, according to previous research, considerable proportions of deaths from all cancers combined (45%) and several major cancer types, including lung (86%), colorectal (54%), breast (28%),and pancreas (24%), in the US can be attributed to potentially modifiable risk factors.

The research team recommends screening for early detection of cancer, clinic-based interventions, and/or referrals for smoking cessation and improved diet and physical activity to help patients reduce their exposure to risk factors. 

“The economic burden of lost earnings from premature cancer deaths in the US appears to be significant. There is also large variation across states, reflecting disparities in the burden. Implementation of comprehensive cancer prevention interventions and equitable access to high-quality care across all states could reduce the burden of cancer and associated geographic and other differences in the country. Healthcare professionals can contribute to achieving this goal because they play a central role in the delivery of cancer prevention, screening, and treatment,” the research team recommends in the study. 

The findings were published on July 3 in the journal JAMA Oncology. 


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