A new study is claiming that the number of cancer cases is rising alarmingly as is the economic impact of the disease.

A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit notes that the number of new cancer cases globally will climb to almost 17 million in 2020 from just under 13 million today “as the population ages and the disease cuts an ever-wider path through emerging economies”. The analysis, commissioned by Livestrong, an initiative of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, with the support of the American Cancer Society, notes that costs associated with new cases in 2009 were estimated to be $217 billion. Lost productivity as a result of time out of work accounts for an additional $69 billion.

The EIU says that low- and middle-income countries will account for 62% of the 12.9 million new cancer cases recorded this year. However, “only 5% of global resources to fight cancer are spent in the developing world”, the report says, and 2020, it is estimated that the number of new cancer cases worldwide will reach 16.8 million, with 65% occuring in developing countries.

The study notes that the developing world “is often resource-scare” and is already facing large impacts from infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and early childhood infections. In these countries, “the growing burden of cancer represents a silent epidemic”, it states.

The EIU adds that this is the first report that has calculated the global economic burden of cancer. Its senior analyst Richard Stein says that “our estimate of $286 billion for medical and non-medical costs and lost productivity is conservative.”

He went on to say that researchers focused on costs associated with morbidity, based on the availability of data. However, “we know that adding in costs related to premature death – for example, lost wages that result - would increase these sums.”

The study, which examined the burden of cancer in 172 countries “and in the world at large,” also considers how much it would cost to achieve a so-called “global expenditure standard”. It argues that cancer-related research spending around the world in 2009 is estimated at $19 billion and to achieve the aforementioned standard would require an additional $217 billion.