The gap in cancer survival rates between England and the European average has remained at around 10% for the last two decades, and closing this divide would contribute £117 million a year to the UK economy, a new report has found.

Rethinking Cancer, compiled by the International Longevity Centre-UK with financial support from Bristol-Myers Squibb, has quantified the cost of cancer to the UK economy by looking at the wider economic and societal impact of the disease.

More than 50,000 people of working age lose their lives to cancer every year, which equates to a dent in the UK economy of some £585 million. Moreover, it found that, across the rest of their working lives, they could have contributed £6.8 billion.

The report also highlights the “huge contribution” to families, communities and the economy made by cancer survivors. The 1.8 million cancer survivors in the UK contribute £6.9 billion to the economy every year through paid employment, as well as wider social contributions valued at £15.2 billion per year, 52 million hours of volunteering and 1.5 billion hours of domestic work.

Moving forward, the report concludes that, as well as the urgent need to increase survival rates, better support to cancer survivors is crucial; 37% of those who return to work after cancer treatment say they experience some kind of discrimination from their employer or colleagues, while 9% feel harassed to the point they feel they cannot stay in their job. And if employment rates for cancer survivors were the same as for the rest of the population, cancer survivors would contribute an additional £4 billion to the UK economy each year.

Call for action

Rethinking Cancer highlights the economic imperative for action, says Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive of ILC-UK said. “It is vital that the Government’s vision to improve cancer outcomes through better prevention; swifter diagnosis; and better treatment, care and aftercare, is delivered. It is also important that we ensure that cancer patients receive support which can help them gain confidence in returning to employment,” she stressed.

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, told PharmaTimes Digital that the report “highlights the need for investment now to improve cancer services or we risk the financial cancer burden rising uncontrollably in future”.  

“We’re pleased the Government has already committed to extra investment into getting cancer picked up earlier by introducing a 28-day target between patients being referred to a specialist and receiving their test results. By implementing in full the Cancer Strategy published in July, the Government can ensure that patients in the UK have the best results, experience and care, with tens of thousands more patients surviving their disease,” she said