"Both of these methods are used in the medical literature," Yabroff said. "We thought it would be useful to compare them."
Large as the costs are, they reflect a decrease in the incidence of cancer in the United States. A National Cancer Institute report issued earlier this month said the rate for all cancers among men and women had dropped 0.8 percent a year between 1999 and 2005 -- a 1.8 percent a year decline for men and a 0.6 percent annual decline for women.
The human capital approach places a higher value on some people than others, Bradley added. For example, "Certain diseases inflict a lower cost because they affect older people more," she said. "Men tend to be valued higher than women, men in their middle years higher than men at the beginning of their career."
The findings could be used to affect cancer spending priorities, Bradley said.
"Policy makers have to decide if we focus on working-age individuals, if we focus on prevention or treatment," she said. "If you get people to stop smoking, 40 years later you see the cost of lung cancer come down. Or perhaps right now you would want to make an impact on treatment."
The human capital assessment of cost is important because "it puts a dollar value on the fact that many people die of cancer at a younger age," Yabroff said.
"But," Bradley added, "you can argue that people are worth more than the wages they earn."
The American Cancer Society has statistics on U.S. cancer deaths.
SOURCES: Cathy J. Bradley, Ph.D, professor, health administration, Virginia Commonwealth University,
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