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Lung cancer costs UK economy almost £2.5 billion a year

Caroline White

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

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Lung cancer costs the UK economy almost £2.5 billion a year, and far exceeds the costs of any other cancer, indicates an economic analysis presented at the National Cancer Research Institute annual conference in Liverpool today.

The total annual cost of all cancers to the UK economy is £15.8bn, say the researchers from the University of Oxford.

The government needs to step up its efforts to curb smoking uptake among teens, say cancer experts.

Half (£7.6bn) of the total cost is due to premature deaths and time off work, followed by healthcare costs, which make up a third (35%, £5.6bn) and unpaid care to cancer patients by friends and family (16%, £2.6bn). Spending on healthcare comes in at £90 per head in the UK.

But the costs for lung cancer outstrip those of other cancers, the figures show. Each lung cancer patient costs the UK healthcare system £9071 annually.

This compares with £2756 for bowel cancer, £1584 for prostate cancer, and £1076 for breast cancer survivors. The average healthcare spend on each cancer patient in the UK is £2776.

Research author, Dr Jose Leal, from the Health Economics Research Centre, University of Oxford, said: “Lung cancer costs more than any other cancer, mainly because of potential wage losses due to premature deaths from people in employment—about 60 per cent of the total economic costs—and high health care costs.”

He added that deaths from the disease remain high at 56 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK population annually, almost a quarter of which occur before retirement.

“Our research shows that cancers impact the economy as a whole and not just the health service. Premature deaths, time off work and unpaid care by friends and family account for 64 per cent of all cancer costs (£10.2bn) in the UK in 2009.

These wider costs should be taken into account when deciding research priorities. Cancers with the highest economic cost could offer the highest expected returns from investment in research,” he suggested.

Each year in the UK in the UK 41,500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer and almost 35,000 people die from the disease. Around 157,000 11-15 year olds start smoking in the UK every year, enough to fill over 5000 classrooms.

Dr Jane Cope, NCRI director, said: "These figures remind us that cancer has a cost, not just in professional healthcare but also in loss of earnings for patients, and for loved ones who give up work to look after them. Since 86 per cent of lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking, we can reduce these financial and societal costs by helping people to stop smoking."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, added: "It’s vital we prevent more young people from becoming addicted to a product that will kill half of all long term smokers. History has shown that reducing smoking rates leads to reduced lung cancer rates. We urge the government to take the next step and introduce plain, standardised packaging for all tobacco products as soon as possible."

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