Objective: To evaluate the excess mortality, resource use, and costs associated with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) among elderly Medicare beneficiaries.
Design: Retrospective cohort analysis using data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute and Medicare claims.
Subjects: Study cohorts included patients aged 65 years and older who were newly diagnosed as having SCCHN in a SEER registry between 1991 and 1993 (N = 4536) and controls matched 1:1 by age and sex. Patients were followed up for 5 years or until death, whichever occurred first.
Results: Initial treatment was primarily surgery and/or radiation among patients with early-stage SCCHN, with only modest use of chemotherapy. Patients with SCCHN had significantly (P<.001) higher 5-year mortality (64% vs 25%) and health care costs than controls. Average Medicare payments (1998 US dollars) among patients with SCCHN were $25 542 higher than those of matched comparison patients (P<.001), with monthly payments 3 times as high ($1428 vs $446). Patients diagnosed as having advanced SCCHN had shorter survival times (5-year mortality, 85%, 75%, 47%, and 35% among patients diagnosed as having distant, regional, local, and in situ cancer, respectively) and higher costs (average total Medicare payments, $53 741, $58 387, $42 698, and $37 434, respectively).
Conclusion: These results suggest that the health economic burden of SCCHN is substantial, with costs that are comparable with or higher than those of other solid tumors.