Higher Spending, Lower Cancer Mortality

Cancer patients are living longer in countries that invest more in care.

The more a country spends on cancer care, the lower their cancer mortality rates, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs.

The study authors analyzed trends in cancer spending and mortality rates in sixteen countries between 1995 and 2007. They found that cancer mortality was reduced by 17 percent in countries that had the highest increase in cancer care spending during that period. The mortality benefit was only 8 percent in countries with the lowest spending increase.

Increased Spending on Cancer Care Leads to Decrease in Mortality

While high-spending countries such as the United States often face criticism for their spendthrift ways, the authors conclude that countries should not be judged by how much they spend but rather by the value obtained for patients.

“What we should be doing,” said Warren Stevens, study author and senior research economist at Precision Health Economics, “is asking, ‘What is the value of all this money we spend on health care, and are we getting a good return?’ If the value outweighs the cost by a significant amount, then basic economics tells us we should keep investing.”

Low-spending Countries vs. High-spending Countries

High-spending countries also earned a higher rate of return for every additional dollar spent on cancer care. For every additional $1,000 spent, the average country had 0.39 fewer cancer deaths per 100,000. But that number jumped to 1.65 fewer deaths for high-spending countries.

The authors offered several potential reasons for this difference: high-spending countries may use health care resources more efficiently and may provide more treatment options for each condition.

Systems will always improve, always change, so denying or delaying the introduction of new technologies doesn’t have any real value to a society, in the long run

High-spending countries are also the ones developing new therapies. Each year since 2011, the United States, Australia and Finland have ranked among the top 10 in the annual Scientific American WorldView Scorecard, which rates countries on a range of factors that support biotechnology innovation. As developers of new technologies, these countries are also likely to adopt them quickly

Low-spending countries, by contrast, tend to delay access to new treatment options until they have first been proven elsewhere.

But the study authors argue that adopting technologies earlier at a higher cost is the better value. “Systems will always improve, always change, so denying or delaying the introduction of new technologies doesn’t have any real value to a society, in the long run,” Stevens said.