WEDNESDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- Medical advances have enabled roughly 12 million U.S. cancer patients to look beyond survival and plan for the future. But for many of these survivors, the future includes high medical costs, researchers say.

In fact, researchers from Penn State found that, on average, cancer survivors pay up to $5,000 more each year in medical care costs than people who have never had cancer.

Using national data from the U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the investigators researched cancer survivors ranging in age from 25 to 64 years. The survivors were matched with similar people who never had cancer, in order to determine how the disease continued to affect their health care expenses over the long term.

"The fact that so many more people are surviving for a long time has shifted the attention of the oncology community -- as well as public health officials -- away from a focus simply on treatment and keeping people alive. Now they are starting to think about life after cancer," Pamela Farley Short, Penn State University professor of health policy and administration, said in a university news release.

The study, published in the June 15 issue of the journal Cancer, found that as a group, most cancer survivors in the United States are women, whites, unmarried (single, divorced or widowed), and publicly insured. Despite these findings, the researchers also revealed that men paid 16 percent of cancer-related increases in health care out-of-pocket, while women paid 9 percent out-of-pocket.

Cancer survivors are at greater risk of encountering health complications down the road, and their total medical expenses, including prescription drugs, average about $9,300 each year, the researchers noted. As a result, more study on the long-term health and economic effects of cancer is needed, the authors added.

"This research is also important because cancer survivors are a sympathetic group for calling attention to the challenges that many people face in paying for health care," said Short. "Almost everybody has a friend or someone in their family who's had cancer, so it resonates. In a way, I think cancer survivors are poster children for a lot of the issues that we face as a society in considering whether and how to proceed with health care reform."

More information

The American Cancer Society provides more information on how cancer patients can find and pay for treatment.