Economics of Cancer


Cancer is the second leading cause of death both in the United States and worldwide and is projected to soon surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death. The estimated overall cost of cancer was $264 billion in 2010, including $103 billion in direct medical costs and $161 billions in productivity loss from cancer-related mortality and morbidity. As efforts to control health-related expenditures intensify, the rising cost of cancer care takes central stage in these discussions. The cost of cancer care is a special concern because a substantial portion of cancer expenditures may not translate into improved health outcomes and yet costly new technologies in oncology often diffuse rapidly into practice. At the same time, there is concern that cost-containment efforts may prevent effective therapies from being adequately reimbursed to motivate research investments needed to develop effective new therapies for cancer. Addressing these challenges is essential to meet the needs of current and future generations for effective and affordable approaches to reducing the burden of cancer.

Program Scope

The University of Chicago Program in the Economics of Cancer is a joint effort between the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Center for Health and the Social Sciences. Supported by these two established Centers on campus, the Program in the Economics of Cancer can mobilize resources from throughout The University to address the most pressing national and international challenges in the economics of cancer.

The goal of the Program is to produce research to help policy makers and scientists more fully capture the benefits of medical advances in cancer to optimize outcomes in cancer care, ideally reducing the human and economic burdens of cancer. To achieve this goal, we bring together faculty trained in the field of economics, other social sciences, as well as basic, clinical, and translational cancer research, to collaboratively study the economic aspects of the current state of cancer care delivery. Program scholars will tackle a variety of important issues. Topics currently explored by Program scholars include research that examines the diffusion of new technologies in cancer and the associated costs and health outcomes; identifies factors contributing to the escalating cost of cancer care; compares the comparative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of cancer treatment options or screening strategies, and investigates disparities in the receipt of novel cancer treatment or the uptake of cancer screening.

The Program will periodically fund pilot research projects to attract and foster the development of young investigators interested in the economics of cancer. Senior scholars in the Program will provide technical guidance and mentorship in economic modeling of oncology trial data and research methods suitable for population-based studies using large claims databases.

Workgroup Meetings

Economics of Cancer Workgroup meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month, from noon to 1pm in M-214. The workgroup meets for general discussion about ongoing projects and shared resources, with some meetings devoted to specific topics. Past meeting topics have included measuring financial burden of cancer patients, policy discussion of generic drug shortage in oncology, clinical and policy aspects of oral cancer drugs, and diffusion of new technology in brain tumor surgery. Presentation slides from previous meetings may be available by contacting the speakers directly.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Dr. Fabrice Smieliauskas
Geographic Variation in Imaging Capacity: Implications for Scale-Up of Low-Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Dr. Ali Yurukoglu (visiting scholar from Stanford University)
Medicare Reimbursements and Shortages of Sterile Injectable Pharmaceuticals

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Dr. Rena Conti
Contract Manufacturers Linked to the Widespread Incidence and Persistence of Cancer Drugs Shortages in the United States

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Dr. Jim Dignam
Opportunities for Economic Research Alongside Clinical Trials

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Dr.  Ya-Chen Tina Shih 
Robotic Surgery in Oncology

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Dr. Sandi Lam 
Diffusion of New Technology in Brain Tumor Surgery

Friday, May 11, 2012
Dr. Ya-Chen Tina Shih
Clinical, Economic, and Policy Implications of the Diffusion of Emerging Radiation Therapies for Breast Cancer”
and Dr. Jonas De Souza
“Measuring Financial Burden in Head and Neck Cancer 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Dr. Rena Conti
Shortage of Oncology Drugs 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Drs. Daniel Geynisman & Ya-Chen Tina Shih
Oral Cancer Drugs -- Clinical and Policy Implications

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Dr. Rena Conti
The Role of Reimbursement in Treatment Decisions in Cancer

For more information

Please contact Ya-Chen Tina Shih at