Although many studies assessing the cost of cancer care have been conducted in the US, to date, these studies and the underlying methods used to estimate costs have not been reviewed systematically. We conducted a descriptive review of the published literature on the cost of cancer care in the US, and identified 60 papers published between 1995 and 2006 pertinent to our study. We found heterogeneity across the studies in terms of the settings, populations studied, measurement of costs, and study methods. We also identified limitations in the generalizability of findings, the misclassification of patient groups and costs, and concerns with study methods. Among studies that reported costs of cancer care in multiple phases of care and for multiple tumor sites, costs were generally highest in the initial year following diagnosis and the last year of life, and lower in the continuing phase (i.e. the period between the initial and last year of life phases), following a 'u-shaped' curve. Within phase of care, costs for lung and colorectal cancer care were generally higher than those for breast and prostate cancer care, however, the long-term or lifetime costs for each type of cancer were more similar, reflecting the differences in survival and costs in each phase between the different disease types.