Investing in cancer care saves lives and money

  • Posted on 25.05.2016

Investing in cancer care saves lives and money


Rebecca Morton Doherty

Senior Advocacy Manager, Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)


Every family has a cancer story. If you have not had direct personal experience of cancer, the chances are that you know a loved one, a friend or a colleague who has.

More than three million people in Europe are diagnosed with cancer every year, and 1.7 million cancer deaths are recorded annually. The death and illness caused by cancer exacts a heavy toll on individuals, communities and the economy. Finding smart ways to improve outcomes for all is essential.

Cancer care has advanced dramatically in recent times but survival rates and outcomes still vary depending on where you live. This is because access to ‘multimodal care’ – including surgery, radiotherapy, medicines and palliative care – are excellent in some corners of Europe and dismal in others.

This challenge is so urgent that The Lancet Oncology coordinated two Commissions to examine the economic case for stepping up investment in cancer surgery and access to radiotherapy, with an emphasis on the return on investment in terms of lives saved as well as economic benefits.

Impact of radiotherapy

Radiotherapy has come a long way in a relatively short time. The ability to reduce and destroy tumours with a targeted dose of radiation is a valuable element of cancer treatment. It is recommended for approximately 50% of new cancer patients.

However, despite this, more than 90% of people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) lack access to radiotherapy. A report by the Lancet Oncology Commission ‘Expanding global access to radiotherapy’ estimates that by 2035 12 million patients per year in LMICs would benefit from radiotherapy.

This life-saving technology requires investment and long-term thinking.

A reasonable question for governments, hospitals and insurers is whether the investment is worth it. a report by the Global Taskforce on Radiotherapy for Cancer Control (GTFRCC), written by 100 experts from 30 countries, found that the total cost of scaling up radiotherapy services to meet demand by 2035 would be $184 billion.

This investment would save an estimated 26.9 million life years with a net economic benefit of USD 278.1 billion.

The associated upfront costs of developing radiotherapy services are recouped within 10-15 years, according to the expert report. Radiotherapy investment also brings with it structural benefits across the health system, and provides value for patients through the provision of palliative care and pain relief.

These expert reports clearly show the potential economic and social returns on investing in cancer services. In addition, diagnostic testing is improving – paving the way for more personalised cancer care – and imaging technologies are offering valuable information on which to make treatment decisions, we are seeing how innovation can save lives and money.

As we mark European Week Against Cancer (25-31 May), we should redouble our efforts to communicate with decision-makers about the broad benefits of investing in excellent cancer care – and in ensuring universal access to these services.

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