New report analyses costs of cancer in Australia

A new report from the AIHW, Health System Costs of Cancer in Australia 1993-94, provides the first systematic analysis of the total health system costs of different types of cancer in Australia. Cancer costs the Australian community almost $2 billion per year in direct health system costs, of which more than 80% are treatment costs.

In 1993-94 cancer accounted for 6% of total recurrent health expenditure compared with 12% for cardiovascular diseases, 12% for digestive system diseases and 9.5% for musculoskeletal problems. Cancer was responsible for 27% of all deaths in Australia in 1993-94.

AIHW's Principal Research Fellow, Dr Colin Mathers, said that the most expensive cancer is non-melanoma skin cancer-its estimated cost in 1993-94 was $232 million. 'This includes health interventions for benign skin tumours and in-situ skin cancers, as well as for invasive cancers. While non-melanoma skin cancer causes only a small number of deaths-379 in 1993-there were over 243,000 new cases that year.'

Colorectal cancer is the second highest contributor to direct costs (an estimated $205 million), ranks second in terms of cancer deaths (4,440 in 1993), and ranks third in terms of new cases (9,538 cases in 1994).

The cancers that account for the most health expenditure are:

  • Non-melanoma skin cancer $232 million(12% of health system costs for cancer)
  • Colorectal cancer $205 million (11%)
  • Breast cancer $184 million (10%)
  • Leukemia $111 million (6%)
  • Lung cancer $107 million (6%)
  • Lymphoma and multiple myeloma $106 million (6%)
  • Prostate cancer $101 million (5.0%).

Other findings of the report include:

  • Breast cancer ranks third in terms of direct costs ($184 million), third in terms of deaths (2,641), and fourth in terms of new cases (8,448 cases).
  • Lung cancer accounts for the largest number of cancer deaths (6,393 or 19%), has approximately the same number of new cases as deaths (6,911), and ranks fifth in terms of costs ($107 million).
  • Forty-five per cent of total health system costs of cancer relate to people aged 65 years and over, with a further 33% relating to people aged 45-64 years. Less than 3% of all cancer costs relate to children aged 0-14 years.
  • Estimated lifetime treatment costs for cancers vary enormously, from around $58,000 for leukemia to $2,400 for melanoma. The average lifetime treatment cost per new cancer case is estimated to be around $17,000.


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