The health and economic cost of cancer tops £15bn a year in the UK, a study by Oxford University researchers suggests.

They said half of the sum related to the economic losses from early deaths and patients taking time off work.

They believe the findings could help identify which areas offer the best returns from investment in research.

Lung cancer was the most expensive, costing £2.4bn a year, bowel cancer cost £1.6bn, breast cancer £1.5bn and prostate cancer £800m.

“These figures remind us that cancer has a cost, not just in professional health care but also in loss of earnings for patients and loved ones who give up work to look after them.”
Dr Jane Cope, National Cancer Research Institute

The study, which is being presented to the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool on Wednesday, looked at economic losses, health care costs and the burden of unpaid care provided by friends and family.

The £15.8bn total for all cancers included £7.6bn in economic costs, £5.6bn for health and £2.6bn for unpaid care.

Highest cost

Lead researcher Dr Jose Leal said: “Our research shows that cancer impacts on 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% of all cancer costs.

“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.”

NCRI director Dr Jane Cope said: “These figures remind us that cancer has a cost, not just in professional health care but also in loss of earnings for patients and loved ones who give up work to look after them.”

Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, said the research was further proof of the need to tackle smoking, particularly among the young.

“Stopping young people taking up this deadly addiction in the first place will not only reduce the number of lung cancer cases in the future but a range of other illnesses that continue to blight the lives of so many people,” she added.

Cost of cancer

Category All cancers Lung Bowel Breast Prostate
SOURCE: OXFORD UNIVERSITY
Health £5.6bn £0.5bn £0.6bn £0.6bn £0.4bn
Economic £7.6bn £1.4bn £0.7bn £0.6bn £0.2bn
Informal care £2.6bn £0.5bn £0.3bn £0.3bn £0.2bn
TOTAL £15.8bn £2.4bn £1.6bn £1.5bn £0.8bn
By Nick Triggle, Health Correspondent