Paradox: Breast Cancer Survival and Healthcare Costs

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Metastatic breast cancer — where the cancer has spread to distant part of the body — is ben_franklinthe most severe form of the disease.

A new study from NIH documents improvement in life expectancy among women with this form of the disease.

The researchers estimated that between 1992-1994 and 2005-2012, five-year relative survival among women initially diagnosed with MBC at ages 15-49 years doubled from 18 percent to 36 percent. Median relative survival time between 1992-1994 and 2005-2012 increased from 22.3 months to 38.7 months for women diagnosed between ages 15-49, and from 19.1 months to 29.7 months for women diagnosed between ages 50-64. The researchers also reported that a small but meaningful number of women live many years after an initial diagnosis of MBC. More than 11 percent of women diagnosed between 2000-2004 under the age of 64 survived 10 years or more. (1)

Obviously, the survival rates, while better, aren’t good. The best results occur when the cancer is caught at a much earlier stage where it is more easily treatable.

While improving the life expectancy of people with advanced cancer is a good thing, it means higher costs in treating the cancer. Simply, the patient is under treatment for a longer period of time.

The current health insurance system in the US basically penalizes everyone for patients surviving for a longer time with advanced disease. Costs go up, driving health insurance rate increases.

The ACA attempted to address the paradox by driving consumers to have more frequent exams and earlier detection of disease.

The AHCA, by reducing enrollment in health insurance, actually makes the situation worse. 


Sources: National Institutes of Health, “Study estimates number of U.S. women living with metastatic breast cancer,” press release, 18 May, 2017. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/study-estimates-number-us-women-living-metastatic-breast-cancer