Breast cancer could cost UK economy £3.6bn by 2034

By Staff

Breast cancer could cost the UK economy a whopping £3.6bn a year by 2034 if if no action is taken to improve screening rates and cut advanced cancer cases, a new report has revealed.

The findings from think tank Demos and charity Breast Cancer Now set out the stark rises that could be expected if nothing is done. The figures represent costs to the NHS in terms of diagnosis and treatment, the cost to society in terms of productivity-loss relating both to the patient and carers, and the individual costs that people carry such as out-of-pocket expenses and loss of income.

Economic modelling in the study shows that, in 2024, the total cost of breast cancer to the UK economy is estimated to be £2.6bn to £2.8bn, or around 0.1% of UK gross output. This includes £727m spent on NHS treatment and screening, plus patient productivity loss of £1.8bn.

In 2019, there were 56,343 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed, the report said, but by 2034, this is expected to have risen by 14.8% to 64,708 cases.

Researchers also looked at the “true human cost of breast cancer”, with wellbeing costs associated with breast cancer estimated to amount to £17.5bn in 2024. This includes costs incurred through reduced quality of life and early death, and the impact on carers, partners and children, such as through anxiety.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “Breast cancer is far from being a ‘done deal’, and the consequences of us failing to act now are dire. While progress has been made across diagnosis, treatment and care, people diagnosed with breast cancer and their loved ones share with us daily the challenges of living with the disease and how their wellbeing and quality of life have deteriorated.”

Baroness Morgan said while 98% of women diagnosed at stage one survive for five years or more, the UK could “not afford to be complacent about breast cancer” as it’s the most common cancer in the world and cases are rising.

In the UK alone, each year there are around 55,000 new cases and breast cancer causes over 11,000 deaths. The outlook for women first diagnosed with stage four – when the cancer has spread to another part of the body and become incurable – is bleak, with around 26% – or a quarter – surviving five years or more.

The report said that increasing breast cancer screening rates, more cancer nurse specialists and better help for people returning to work would have the highest impact on cutting costs.

‘A preventative approach will reduce the strain on the public purse’

The study said increasing the screening uptake to 80% would lead to economic savings in the range of £96m to £111m in 2034. Current figures show that 62.3% of women aged 50 to 71 in England take up their offer of breast screening.

Breast cancer is also the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK but 23% of cases are preventable.

Lucy Bush, director of research and participation at Demos, said: “At Demos, we have long been making the case for a more preventative approach in healthcare delivery and this report demonstrates the value of such a model in relation to cancer care.

“Shifting towards a more preventative model of healthcare overall is vital as we face a rising tide of demand for healthcare that firefighting alone will not stem. A preventative approach will reduce the strain on the public purse at the same time as creating a stronger and more resilient population

“In this report, we show that adopting preventative measures that reduce early death and the impact of the disease have the potential to greatly reduce the cost of breast cancer to the economy and individuals.”

An NHS England spokeswoman added: “This report is right to recognise the considerable progress made in improving breast cancer survival rates since the 1990s, thanks to improved treatment options and earlier diagnosis, and NHS staff will continue to do all they can to encourage people to take up screening and come forward with worrying symptoms so we can catch it earlier when it is easier to treat.

“We are working hard to improve diagnosis and survival rates, with 1,100 more early-stage breast cancer patients diagnosed a year than before the pandemic, not only because it is the right thing for patients’ health but as this analysis makes clear, there are also wider benefits in reducing the human and financial costs.”

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