U.S. ranks seventh in cancer mortality rates despite having highest cost of care, study finds

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Spending on cancer care has eclipsed $200 billion per year

A new study conducted by researchers from Yale University explored how spending on cancer treatments globally affects the mortality rate. Their findings showed that the U.S. spends more than any country in the world on cancer care; however, six other countries spend less on these treatments and have better mortality rates. 

“There is a common perception that the U.S. offers the most advanced cancer care in the world,” said researcher Dr. Ryan Chow. “Our system is touted for developing new treatments and getting them to patients more quickly than other countries. We were curious whether the substantial U.S. investment on cancer care is indeed associated with better cancer outcomes.”

High costs may not improve health outcomes

The researchers analyzed data from nearly two dozen high-income countries. They looked specifically at costs related to cancer care and related deaths from September 2021, through March 2022. 

The team found that spending more on cancer didn’t yield the greatest health outcomes. The U.S. ranked first in spending on cancer care but did not have the best cancer mortality rate worldwide. There were six countries that spent less on cancer costs and had better mortality rates than the U.S. – Iceland, Switzerland, Australia, Korea, Finland, and Japan. 

“The U.S. is spending over $200 billion per year on cancer care – roughly $600 per person, in comparison to the average of $300 per person across other high-income countries,” said researcher Cary Gross. “This raises the key question: Are we getting our money’s worth?” 

The researchers also looked at how smoking affects cancer mortality rates around the world. Although the U.S. has lower smoking rates than other countries globally, its performance actually got worse when the researchers adjusted for this factor; there were nine countries with better cancer mortality rates than the U.S. after accounting for smoking status. 

The team hopes these findings highlight some of the ways that countries outside of the U.S. have managed to keep health care costs reasonable while also lengthening cancer patients’ lives. 

“The pattern of spending more and getting less is well-documented in the U.S. health care system; now we see it in cancer care, too,” said researcher Elizabeth Bradley. “Other countries and systems have much to teach the U.S. if we could be open to change.” 

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