Study: Spending more on cancer care does not lower mortality rates

The U.S. spends the most on cancer care than any other country, so it would stand to reason that it would also report the lowest rates of mortality associated with the disease. 

Unfortunately, a recent study published in JAMA Health Forum found that while the U.S. spends twice as much on cancer-related care as most high-income nations, six other nations reported having lower mortality rates.

According to researchers, $200 billion, or approximately $600 per person, is spent by the U.S. health care system to fight cancer and offer premium treatment for its patients. 

The other 22 countries that were studied spent only $300 per person per year on average. Researchers found that six countries including Finland, Iceland, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Switzerland reported lower mortality rates despite spending less on treatment for the disease. 

"There is a common perception that the U.S. offers the most advanced cancer care in the world," said Ryan Chow, an M.D./Ph.D., lead author for the study. "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."

"Countries that spend more on cancer care, do not necessarily have better cancer outcomes," Chow added. 

Researchers noted that smoking represents the highest risk factor for cancer mortality. And while smoking rates have been lower in the United States compared to the other 22 high-income nations listed in the study’s analysis, leaving researchers to assume it would result in a lower mortality rate for Americans. 

But when researchers adjusted the data to take smoking rates into account, mortality rates for diseases like lung cancer and other cancers associated with smoking were still higher than at least nine other countries on the list. 

"Adjusting for smoking shows the United States in an even less favorable light, because the low smoking rates in the U.S. had been protective against cancer mortality," said Chow.

While researchers say more needs to be studied to better understand the correlation between spending on health care and mortality rates, researchers noted that the high cost of drugs and health care in America is a key factor in why the U.S. spends so much.