The economic cost of squamous cell cancer of the head and neck: findings from linked SEER-Medicare data

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2004 Nov;130(11):1269-75. doi: 10.1001/archotol.130.11.1269.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / economics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / economics*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • SEER Program
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology