Cancer Research Support Linked to Fewer Early Deaths, Hospitalizations

A new economic study has found that cancer types that were the focus of articles receiving public or private research support had fewer hospitalizations and lower mortality.

A new economic study has found that cancer types that were the focus of more articles receiving public or private research support had fewer hospitalizations and years of potential life lost.

Prior work had shown that cancer mortality rates may be inversely related to the amount of research-funded literature about each cancer type, and that this association grew stronger as more years passed since the articles’ publication. In a follow-up, the lead author of that 2013 study set out to analyze whether research support for various types of cancer was associated with a decline in years of potential life lost or hospitalizations from 1999 to 2013. The findings were published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Examining years of potential life lost as opposed to mortality rates would “enable us to calculate the number of life-years gained from biomedical research,” wrote study author Frank R. Lichtenberg. He also chose hospitalizations as another outcome due to its substantial cost burden, as it accounted for almost one-third of American medical expenditure in 2014.

For the analysis, Lichtenberg conducted difference-in-differences models based on longitudinal data for 30 different cancer sites, such as respiratory neoplasms, myeloid leukemia, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He collected data for each type of cancer on the years of potential life lost before age 55, 65, and 75; number of hospital discharges and days of care; number of PubMed articles with that site as a “main topic” that mentioned either federal or nonfederal support, as well as those that did not mention such support; and general incidence data.

He found that premature mortality before age 75 was inversely related to the number of research-supported articles that had been published 9 to 15 years earlier. This relationship was similar for premature mortality before age 65 and research-supported articles published 12 to 15 years earlier, as well as before age 55 and research-supported articles published 18 to 24 years later. There was no association between years of potential life lost before any age and the number of publications that did not have research support.

Both, hospital discharges and inpatient days for the cancer types were also inversely related to the number of research-funded publications. For example, for each additional 1000 research-supported articles, there was a 10% reduction in discharges 24 years later.

According to Lichtenberg, these findings “indicate that cancer sites about which more research-supported articles were published since the 1970s had larger reductions in premature mortality and hospitalization during the period 1999-2013, controlling for the change in the number of people diagnosed.”

If no research-funded articles had been published from 1987 to 2001, he estimated there would have been 566,000 additional potential years of life lost due to cancer before age 75. Additionally, the support for research articles published from 1984 to 1998 reduced hospital discharges by an average of 4.1% each year from 1999 to 2013.