The human costs of cancer run wide and deep. In addition to the numerous emotional and financial costs of cancer treatment, cancer victims bear another very important loss: battling cancer steals losts of time.
During traditional cancer treatments, many hours are spent sitting in doctors' waiting rooms, at the hospital for CT scans and chemotherapy. A recent study found that the first year of treatment alone costs patients $2.3 billion in lost time for the first year of treatment alone--and for many patients, their battle with cancer is longer than one year, and many times they have recurring battles with cancer. This study was based on people treated for the eleven most common kinds of cancer.
The human costs of cancer are truly staggering.
In just the first year after being diagnosed with cancer, it turns out that cancer treatment eats up:
*368 hours of time for those with ovarian cancer
*272 hours of time for those being treated for lung cancer
*193 hours of time for those being treated for kidney cancer
The shocking part is that these figures don't even account for the many days spent home in bed recovering from surgery or feeling weak and tired from chemo. These hours quoted simply account for time spent at the medical facility. They don't even begin to address the entirety of the human costs of cancer.
"What we see here is a measure of the patient's burden of commitment," wrote Drs. Larry Kessler of the Food and Drug Administration and Scott Ramsey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, in an accompanying editorial for the study published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "Cancer is more than the just the dollars and cents for the medicines and the treatments and the doctors. The human costs of cancer also entail the lost opportunities for the patients," says Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society. And because these diseases rob society of fully functioning individuals available in the workplace and community, cancer plays an important role in policy-making, such as how dollars should be allocated to medical research. However, it is not always easy to pinpoint the precise value of a patient's time spent receiving healthcare for cancer. One thing that's for sure is that the wasted time is costly, however.
The study also revealed something of importance to patients' day-to-day lives, Lichtenfeld noted: types of cancer that tend to be diagnosed early--when they're more curable--require less treatment time. This highlights the importance of prevention and screening as opposed to just treating full-blown cases.
The study also highlights the importance of newer "targeted" cancer treatments that promise fewer severe side effects and often allow patients to be treated with pills at home instead of in a clinic, added Kessler and Ramsey. "Targeted" cancer treatments work on the actual area of cancer and do not strain the patient's entire body as much as older cancer treatment methods. The doctors called on manufacturers to do research on the costs of patients' lost time due to recovery from cancer treatments, and proposed that insurers might better cover new drugs that reduce recovery time.
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