(NaturalNews) The cost of cancer treatment rose dramatically between 1991 and 2002, sparking fears that many people may be going without the most effective treatment, according to a study conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute.
Researchers used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End-Results (SEER) Medicare database to examine the costs of initial cancer treatments in 306,709 breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer patients over the age of 65. These treatments included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other hospitalization.
Over the ten-year period studied, the average cost of breast cancer treatment increased $4,189 to $20,964. The average cost of treating prostate cancer increased $5,435 to $41,134, while the average cost of lung cancer treatment went up $7,139 to $39,891.
The researchers attributed the increasing cost to an increase in the use of chemotherapy. The introduction of newer, more expensive drugs occurred so recently that it is unlikely to have influenced the numbers in the current study, they said - meaning that the cost of cancer treatment is probably already much higher than the numbers for 2002.
Researchers noted that increasing costs are placing a strain on Medicare and have led to changes in its reimbursement policy. This, in turn, can influence patients' ability to afford the most effective treatment.
"There were changes to Medicare payment policy over the period of this study," said Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, "and they had significant impact on how physicians were reimbursed. The net result is that it may have influenced practice patterns that we are seeing, such as the transition from surgery and radiation therapy for prostate cancer."
The average cost paid for prostate cancer treatment actually decreased slightly ($196) to $18,261, an effect that researchers attributed to the decreasing popularity of expensive surgery.
"Some people are not able to afford [more expensive] treatments," Lichtenfeld said. "The increased use of expensive chemotherapy is having an impact on how we treat cancer patients."