New Research Finds Oral Cancer May Be Most Costly To Treat

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Oral cancer screenings. (credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

Oral cancer screenings. (credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

OKEMOS — New research coming out of Delta Dental of Michigan’s Research and Data Institute finds that in the United States, the cost of oral cavity, oral pharyngeal, and salivary gland cancer may be the most costly cancer in the nation to treat. Details of the study will be published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Head and Neck Oncology today.

The project, which involved key partners including Thomson Reuters, Delta Dental of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, began in March 2010.

Through the use of Thomson Reuters MarketScan Research Databases and information from Delta Dental’s RDI, the study retrospectively analyzed claims data of 6,812 patients with the three forms of cancer who had employer-sponsored health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.

It concluded that on average, total annual health care spending during the year following diagnosis was $79,151 compared to $7,419 in a group comprised of similar patients without these cancers. The research also determined that the average cost of care almost doubled when patients received all three types of treatment including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

“The results of this research are significant in helping us to fully understand the cost burden of these three particular head and neck cancers on patients and health care providers,” said Jed Jacobson, chief science officer at Delta Dental and a lead contributor to the study. “To our knowledge, this is the first study of its kind. The information will be a great asset in determining the cost-effectiveness of any new technologies and early detection systems that could potentially help decrease costs, and more importantly, lower the mortality rate of these cancers down the road.”

The project examined other factors including:

* Indirect costs associated with OC/OP/SG cancers from diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
* Indirect costs can include absenteeism and worker productivity, as well as the disabling and disfiguring side effects of treatment.
* The cost burden of oral cancer on taxpayers who fund Medicaid and Medicare.
* The comparative value of preventive care for these oral cancers versus treatment.

“Most oral cancers require costly and disfiguring medical intervention, and even then the five-year survival rate is approximately just 60 percent,” states Jacobson. “Yet when the cancer is detected early, the survival rate increases to 83 percent. This study allows us to get a better handle on the cost impact these diseases have and how we can combat them better.”

Head and neck cancers have always piqued the interest of health care providers, patients and insurers because of the high morbidity, high cost of care and high mortality rates associated with them. Yet, it has largely remained an unexplored area when it comes to research and backing up these conclusions.

“The actual study of the social, psychological and economic impacts of these cancers has been understudied,” said Joel Epstein, former professor of oral medicine and diagnostic sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago, now adjunct professor, director of oral medicine at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. “These are the reasons we decided to conduct this important research and be able to shed more light on the cost burden of treating head and neck cancer.”

Dr. Fred Eichmiller, science officer at Delta Dental of Wisconsin agrees.

“This research has been long overdue and now provides a greater depth of information and knowledge that in the long run can benefit millions of people,” he said.

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