A recent report by Frontier Economics has laid bare the staggering economic and social costs of preventable cancers in the UK. The study estimates that around 184,000 preventable cancers will be diagnosed in the UK this year alone, costing the economy a whopping £78 billion.
The report delves into the financial burden that preventable cancers place on the healthcare system. It estimates that these cancers will lead to £3.7 billion in healthcare costs, which includes costs incurred by the NHS, and £1.3 billion in social care costs. The financial implications are not just limited to healthcare; they extend to lost productivity, estimated at £40 billion, and a £30 billion cost to the individuals affected in terms of quality of life and loss of earnings.
Smoking, obesity, alcohol intake, and exposure to UV radiation are the leading causes of these preventable cancers. Approximately 40% of all cancers are considered preventable, and this number is expected to rise over the next 17 years. Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, emphasised the need for strong prevention strategies, stating that the UK Government is currently set to miss its 2030 smoke-free ambition.
If current trends continue, the report warns that the UK could see around 226,000 new preventable cancer cases by 2040. Between 2023 and 2040, a staggering 3.7 million preventable cancers could be diagnosed. The total cost of all preventable cancers between now and 2040 is estimated to reach an astronomical £1.26 trillion.
Matthew Bell, a director at Frontier Economics, highlighted the human aspect, stating that reducing the number of people with these cancers could significantly improve productivity, growth, and the lives of countless people and their families. The report also broke down the economic impact by type of cancer, revealing that lung cancer has the highest economic impact at approximately £630,000 per case.
The report has led to calls for immediate action from various health organisations. Dr Sadie Boniface, head of research at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, stressed the need for policies to tackle cheap alcohol and limit marketing. Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, called for a mature debate focused on evidence-based policies that serve the public.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman stated that the government is committed to tackling the causes of preventable cancers. Measures include calorie labelling, a £40 million pilot to give eligible patients living with obesity access to effective obesity drugs, and free vaping starter kits to help a million smokers quit.
The Frontier Economics report serves as a wake-up call for both the government and the public. With the number of preventable cancers on the rise and the associated costs reaching astronomical levels, there is an urgent need for effective prevention strategies. The report not only quantifies the economic burden but also underscores the human cost, making it clear that action is needed now more than ever.