Cancer patient getting treatmentAccording to the latest statics, cancer claimed more than anestimated 600,000 lives in 2015, totaling 8.7 million years oflife. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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As terrible as the toll is on human lives, the cost of cancer doesn't leave the country'seconomy unscathed.

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A new study from the American Cancer Society published in JAMAOncology finds that fighting cancer pays off not just in humanlives but also in economic terms. “When you invest in cancerprevention, treatment, and screenings, you don't just save lives.There are also substantial financial benefits,” said Dr.Farhad Islami, scientific director of surveillance research at theAmerican Cancer Society and a coauthor of the study.

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According to the latest statics, cancer claimed more than anestimated 600,000 lives in 2015, totaling 8.7 million years oflife, but it also cost the economy some $94.4 billion in lostwages. That number could be even higher, since people younger than16 or older than 85 were not included in that toll.

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Related: Cancer care challenges employers, health planbudgets

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The study translates the economic cost of cancer into humancapital, estimating the effect of cancer deaths on the economyinstead of the overall value of life lost—termed the“willingness-to-pay” approach. The study also evaluated eachstate's economic burden from cancer deaths, since they varygeographically across the country.

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The West suffered least from lost earnings, with Utah clockingin at the lowest overall rate: $19.6 million in lost earnings per100,000 people. The cost in dollars was highest in the South, withKentucky suffering the highest financial toll at $35.3 million per100,000 people.

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According to the report, “If all 50 states had a rate equivalentto Utah's, approximately 2.4 million years of lost life could havebeen avoided and $27.7 billion in lost earning saved—a 29 percentnational reduction in lost earnings.”

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Considered by cancer type, lung cancer was the most costly,higher than any other cancer across all states, amassing total lostearnings of $21.3 billion. It was followed by colorectal and breastcancers at $9.4 billion and $6.2 billion, respectively.

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Improved cancer prevention, achieved via focus on riskfactors—such as diet, exercise and smoking— better screening andbetter treatments, can help to bring down the numbers. But noteveryone gets screened or can follow through on care.

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“These types of analyses help us prioritize where to put ourresources,” Cathy Bradley, associate dean for research and deputydirector of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, is quotedsaying in the report. Bradley reviewed the study but was notinvolved in the work. She adds, “We want to allocate the limitedresources we have to diseases and conditions with the biggestimpact. And productivity is one way of measuring the impact.”

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.