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Study Examines Link Between Obesity in Long-Term Cancer Survivors and Increased Health-Care Utilization and Spending


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A new study from the American Cancer Society published by Xuesong Han, PhD, and colleagues in the journal Cancer has found a link between obesity and the substantial economic burden of nearly $20 billion in 2016 among long-term cancer survivors in the United States, with one-third attributable to survivors with severe obesity.

Cancer survivors account for 5% of the U.S. population and 10% of the U.S. total medical spending. Excess body weight may increase health-care utilization and medical spending for survivors of all cancer types, given its effects on the increased risk of secondary cancer; higher likelihood of other obesity-related comorbidities such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease; and poorer quality of life.  

Annual Costs Found

Prior studies had projected that health-care spending associated with cancer to be $201 billion in 2020 in the United States.  Investigators estimated the excess health-care utilization and medical spending associated with obesity among long-term cancer survivors. They used a nationally representative sample of long-term cancer survivors to provide the first national estimate of the economic burden associated with obesity among long-term cancer survivors in the United States.


The study found substantial excess medical spending associated with obesity, highlighting the critical importance of lifestyle interventions and weight management in cancer survivors. In addition to other health benefits, maintaining a healthy body weight for cancer survivors may also reduce health-care utilization and economic burden.
— Xuesong Han, PhD

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Researchers found that for long-term cancer survivors in the United States on average, each survivor with obesity (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 30 kg/m2) had health spending of over $3,000 more on medical care annually than normal-weight cancer survivors (18.5 kg/m2 < BMI ≤ 25 kg/m2), with the main contributors being hospital inpatient and prescription drug spending. The excess medical spending was magnified in cancer survivors with severe obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2), with over $5,000 per person per year, or nearly $7 billion in the nation in 2016.

“The study found substantial excess medical spending associated with obesity, highlighting the critical importance of lifestyle interventions and weight management in cancer survivors,” said Dr. Han. “In addition to other health benefits, maintaining a healthy body weight for cancer survivors may also reduce health-care utilization and economic burden.”

The study found excess care utilization and medical spending associated with obesity in both female and male cancer survivors, although the associations were of a greater magnitude among women.

“Policies and practices promoting a healthy lifestyle and achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight for cancer survivors may reduce health-care utilization and economic burden,” wrote the authors. “With the increasing prevalence of cancer survivorship and high costs of cancer care, prevention, including promotion of healthy lifestyles, is considered a cost-effective and potentially cost-saving strategy for reducing the economic burden of cancer.”

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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