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New cancer treatments drive up expenses, yet save more lives
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You may surprised to learn that medical costs associated with cancer have nearly doubled in the last 20 years.

Although traditional market conditions may have played a role in the increase, experts say that likely isn’t the main cause.

“Some of the increase may be attributed to inflationary costs, but I wouldn’t attribute it all to that,” said Dr. Tom Enright, director of oncology services for the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

According to researchers with the Center for Disease Control, cancer costs in the United States increased from $24.7 billion in 1997 to $48.1 billion in 2007.

While inflation may be one factor, a larger catalyst for the increases is the fact that new medications and technology are allowing more types of cancer to be treated, Enright says.

“Some of the older drugs are still available and are very effective — those are cheaper than the new ones,” Enright said.

“But the new medications are initially more expensive because the pharmaceutical industry says they have to recoup some of money that they put into research and development. As more generics become available, the cost usually goes down some.”

Having the ability to treat more types of cancer than what was possible 20 years ago is also allowing more people to live longer, another factor that drives the long-term cost of cancer care up.

The new technology also allows more forms of cancer to be detected.

All things considered, that increase isn’t so dramatic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of general medical care has increased by more than 170 percent. Comparatively, housing costs have increased by more than 83 percent.

“Research costs companies more than it did 20 years ago. Pharmaceutical companies are faced with some of the same issues that other industries are; salaries for employees cost more now than they did back then,” Enright said.

“But the things that they are developing are allowing people to live longer. It’s not uncommon for us to see a patient live through one type of cancer, only to diagnosed with another one. But unlike 20 years ago, now we have the means to treat them.”

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