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Total cost of cancer in the EU: €126 billion

Study shows variation in spending across countries

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 14 October 2013

The first ever study to evaluate the economic cost of cancer across the EU reveals huge disparities between countries.

The findings, published in The Lancet Oncology, which evaluated spending across 27 countries, reported that the total cost of cancer in the EU in 2009 was €126 billion. Germany, France, Italy, and the UK together accounting for just over two-thirds of this cost (€83 billion).

The results reveal substantial disparities between different countries in spending on health care and drugs for cancer, with Luxembourg and Germany spending the most on health care for cancer per person, and Bulgaria spending the least. 

Overall, expenditure on drugs for cancer accounted for around a quarter of the total cost (€14 billion).  Spending on cancer medications as a percentage of health care costs was lowest in Lithuania, and highest in Cyprus.

A team of researchers from the Health Economics Research Centre, at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, UK, and from King’s College London, Institute of Cancer Policy and KHP Cancer Centre UK, collated data obtained from international health organisations (WHO and EUROSTAT), as well as national ministries of health and statistical institutes to estimate the total cost of cancer across the EU in 2009, the most recent year for which comprehensive data were available. 

The overall calculation included the cost of health care for cancer (including the cost of drugs), the cost of productivity losses (due to premature death, and people being unable to work due to illness), and the cost of informal care from friends and relatives, estimating the overall cost in 2009 to be €126 billion. 

Around two fifths (€51 billion) of this cost was incurred by health care systems, with the rest incurred by patients’ families, friends, and society overall. Friends and relatives of people with cancer were estimated to have provided 3 billion hours of unpaid care overall, valued at €23·2 billion.  Lost productivity – due to premature deaths and illness from cancer – was estimated to have cost €52 billion.

The researchers also examined the different contribution of the four cancers which in the EU contribute to around half of all new cancer diagnoses and deaths – breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer. They found that lung cancer had the highest overall cost, at €18·8 billion (just over a tenth of the total), and was also responsible for the biggest loss of productivity.  Health care costs were highest for breast cancer (€6·7 billion, 13% of total cancer-related health care costs), largely due to a high rates of spending on drugs for this illness.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Ramon Luengo-Fernandez, University of Oxford, UK, said: “This is the first ever comprehensive EU-wide study which allows us to not only estimate the total cost of cancer in the EU, but also to make meaningful comparisons between countries.  We hope that these results will allow policymakers to better allocate research funds, and to deliver cancer services in a way that provides good value for money.”

Professor Richard Sullivan, of King’s College London, said: “It is vital that decision-makers across Europe use this information to identify and prioritise key areas. More effective targeting of investment may prevent health care systems from reaching breaking point – a real danger given the increasing burden of cancer – and in some countries better allocation of funding could even improve survival rates.” 

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