Open Forum | The Economic Impact of a Cure for Cancer

Written by: Andrew Confusione

Since the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971 by former President Richard Nixon, researchers have been feverishly trying to find a cure for cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and it is estimated that over 609,000 Americans will die from cancer in 2018 alone. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. As cancer continues to plague families across the country, the nationwide desire for a cure continues to grow. The cure for cancer will bring along many consequences, and unfortunately these consequences will not be all positive.

The cure for cancer, while saving millions of lives, will also place a heavy burden on the United States’ economy. To begin, a cure for cancer would render the market for cancer treatments obsolete. In 2016, the global cost of cancer therapy and drugs was 113 billion USD, with the US accounting for approximately 46% of that cost. Taking away this revenue would have a negative effect on the American economy. In addition, a cure for cancer would extend the life expectancy of millions of Americans, and while that is a welcomed effect, it would greatly worsen the upcoming Social Security crisis. About 63 million people collect Social Security benefits each month, and as more baby boomers (people born between 1946-1964) become eligible to receive benefits, the market for Social Security grows at a rate that exceeds the number of people able to pay into the system. The cure for cancer would further overcrowd the Social Security market, and future recipients will end up receiving less money than they contributed, adding yet another strain onto the national economy.

Obviously, should a cure for cancer be discovered, there will be many disagreements as to whether or not it should be approved by the FDA. The harsh reality is that while most Americans will support approval of the cure, big pharmaceutical companies may be resistant in approving the drug and giving up such a large share of their annual profits. The inevitable lobbying from special interest groups both for and against approval will unfortunately make for a vicious, upsetting political conflict. In the end, we as Americans must decide if a worse off economy is worth saving the lives of millions of cancer patients nationwide.

Andrew is from Mullica Hill, New Jersey, and is currently a first-year at SMU planning to major in economics.