Radiology contributes to high costs in cancer care

USA – Radiology accounted for US$2.1 billion in cancer care spending in 2018, making it the second most expensive line item, according to a new study of over 402,000 cancer patients published in JAMA Network Open.

This was one of several findings from a Penn State University team led by Dr. Nicholas Zaorsky on cancer care costs for privately insured adults in the United States, including imaging and radiation therapy.

The researchers aimed to characterize the most common medical services provided to privately insured cancer patients in the United States, as well as the costs associated with these services, in order to identify potential targets for reducing resource consumption.

Imaging exams (X-ray, CT, etc.) accounted for US$2.1 billion (19.4 percent) of that total, making them the second most expensive category cited in the study.

Meanwhile, medical supplies and nonphysician services contributed the most to spending, accounting for US$4 billion.

According to the researchers, medical supplies and nonphysician services accounted for the largest portion of the total, accounting for US$4 billion or 37 percent of the total, while surgery contributed US$1.8 billion.

The high cost shows that radiology is an underappreciated component of the care continuum that drives part of the high cost of cancer care,” Zaorsky said.

Breast cancer was discovered to be the most expensive type of cancer, costing US$3.4 billion, followed by lung cancer (US$1.1 billion) and colorectal cancer (US$1.1 billion).

Several services, including CT, screening mammography, radiotherapy, and MRI, were included in the radiology category. After medical supplies and nonphysician services, radiology was discovered to be the second-largest contributor to cancer care costs.

Meanwhile, radiological procedures in the study ranged from 280,000 to 350,000. The most common procedure was an abdominal or pelvic CT scan with contrast material, while intensity-modulated radiation treatment delivery was the least common.

Zaorsky noted that the study highlights cancer being a major contributor to the high cost of private health insurance in the U.S.

Any time costs go up, insurers inevitably pass along these costs to consumers in the form of higher premiums and/or higher rates of cost-sharing,” he said. “So, it is important for policymakers and consumers to think about whether this is the best way to spend limited health care resources.”

According to the researchers their MarketScan data primarily includes people employed by larger firms and may not accurately represent all privately insured individuals.

The research team recommended that more research is needed to better identify and target wasteful procedure. The team will embark on another study to assess the costs borne by patients and their families.

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