The first ever estimate of the economic burden of cancer in Europe shows that it exceeds 124 billion euros every year, with Germany incurring the biggest costs for its patients.

The analysis, from Ramon Luengo-Fernandez of Oxford University and colleagues, used data from a variety of sources such as the World Health Organization and national ministries of health and included direct health costs, as well as the cost of informal care and losses in productivity.

The lowest per-capita healthcare cost for cancer was 32 euros per year in Lithuania, while the highest was in Germany, with 165 euros spent on every person in the population - the UK spent 88 euros.

Breast cancer had the highest cost, at 6 billion euros each year, although the highest total economic burden was attributable to lung cancer, 19 billion euros, of which 10 billion euros was due to premature mortality. Dr Luengo-Fernandez said: "In order to be in a better position to inform policy decisions there is a great need for improved information on epidemiology, healthcare resource use and unit costs across the EU."

Affect on carers

Speaking at this week's ESMO cancer conference in Vienna, Isabelle Gilloteau from Bristol-Myers Squibb spoke about her company's report that found relative to non-caregivers, people who cared for cancer patients reported that they experienced worse physical (47.6 vs. 48.9) and mental health (43.7 vs. 46.9), were more likely to be absent from work (8.1 vs. 4.8), were more impaired in their activities (28.7 vs. 21.8), and had twice as many hospitalisations during the past six months (0.22 vs 0.11).

The report indicated that they were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and had twice the odds of anxiety and insomnia, as well as higher odds of suffering from migraines, headaches or gastrointestinal problems, compared with non-caregivers. Dr Gilloteau said: "The vital role played by unpaid caregivers in supporting cancer patients is well recognised, but the health burden and economic impact on these caregivers is poorly understood."