CANCER costs the UK more than £12 billion a year in treatment bills, lost productivity and care provided by relatives, new research has found.
The study – the first to evaluate the economic burden of cancer across the European Union’s 27 countries – found that in 2009 the total costs related to the disease amounted to €126bn – more than £107bn.
The four countries with the biggest populations – the UK, France, Germany and Spain – accounted for two-thirds of the total cost at more than £70bn.
In Scotland, about 30,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year, with two out of five people now expected to develop the disease in their lifetime.
Initiatives such as the Detect Cancer Early programme have been launched in efforts to improve outcomes for patients as well as saving the NHS money by identifying cancer at a stage when it is easier to treat and the chances of survival greater.
But the NHS in Scotland has struggled to improve care in some areas, particularly reducing waits for treatment where targets are still being missed.
The latest study, published in The Lancet Oncology, set out to estimate the economic costs of cancer across the EU using data from sources such as the World Health Organisation, health departments and statistical bodies.
The overall calculation included the cost for healthcare, such as hospital stays and drugs, as well as lost productivity as a result of premature death and people not being able to work due to illness.
It also included an estimate of the cost of informal care provided by friends and relatives to loved-ones with cancer.
Only around two-fifths of the total cost went on healthcare – £43bn overall – while the rest of the cost was incurred by family, friends and society in general.
For the UK the researchers, from Oxford University and King’s College London, estimated the healthcare costs linked to cancer to be around £4.5bn, including almost £900 million on drugs.
Loss of productivity due to cancer in the UK stood at almost £6bn, while the cost of informal care was almost £2bn.
Across the EU, friends and relatives of people with cancer were estimated to have provided three billion hours of unpaid care, valued at £19.7bn.
The researchers also found wide variations in how much different countries were spending on healthcare related to cancer.
Across the EU, an average of £87 was spent on cancer treatment per head of the population. But this ranged from £156 in Luxembourg to just £14 in Bulgaria.
In the UK, costs of cancer treatment per person in the population stood just lower than the EU average at £72.
The researchers pointed out that overall their estimates on cancer costs were conservative as in some categories, such as the costs of screening programmes for the disease, they were unable to obtain data from all the countries so they were not included.
Researcher Dr Ramon Luengo-Fernandez, from Oxford University, said: “This is the first 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, added: “More effective targeting of investment may prevent care systems from reaching breaking point – a real danger given the increasing burden of cancer.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We know that the earlier a cancer is diagnosed the greater the chance it can be treated successfully, and that is why we are investing £30m in our Detect Cancer Early programme.
“As part of this programme, we are making substantial investment in increasing diagnostic and treatment capacity across Scotland, and we will shortly be launching the next phase of the plan, which will look specifically at lung cancer.
“In addition, we are continuing to invest in other areas of cancer care, with £5.2m being invested on delivering the breast, bowel and cervical screening programmes in 2012-13.”