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Preventable Cancers Could Total £1.26 Trillion by 2040

Cancer experts said a new report highlighting the growing cost to the economy and the NHS from preventable cancers was a "stark reminder" of the need to implement prevention strategies.

According to consultancy firm Frontier Economics, there would be around 184,000 preventable cancers diagnosed in the UK in 2023, with an estimated cost of £78 billion up to 2031, equivalent to 3.5% of the country's annual GDP.

The incidence of preventable cancers was expected to increase over time, "largely due to population increases rather than changes in cancer incidence rates", the report authors said. By 2040 they expected that the total of new preventable cancer cases diagnosed would reach approximately 226,000. This meant that between 2023 and 2040 there would be an estimated 3.7 million new preventable cancer cases.

£1.26 Trillion Total Costs of Preventable Cancers From 2023 to 2040

Although the cost of annual diagnoses was forecast to fall to £61 billion in real, discounted 2023 values each year between now and 2040, this amounted to a £1.26 trillion total cost of preventable cancers over this period.

The figures were derived from modelling estimates that included the social and economic costs of preventable cancers in the UK. Costs were considered across five areas: individual, health care, social care, family and carer, and productivity.

The largest contributors to costs from 2023 diagnoses were estimated to be £40 billion from lost productivity, driven by unpaid productivity lost due to mortality, and £30 billion from individual costs, driven by the high cost of quality of life lost due to mortality.

The analysis reported that total approximate costs per case were highest, at £630,000, for lung cancer. They were similar, at between £300,000 and £400,000 per case, for bowel, breast, and other cancers, and lowest, at £135,000 per case, for melanoma.

Nearly 40% of UK Cancer Cases Preventable

Matthew Bell, director at Frontier Economics, commented: "Established research estimates that nearly 40% of UK cancer cases are preventable, through actions such as reducing tobacco use, reducing obesity, and [reducing] exposure to UV radiation. 

"Reducing the number of people with these cancers could be a central element to reducing some costs for the NHS and, more significantly, [to] improving productivity and growth and the lives of countless people and their families." 

The report authors noted that the analysis had made assumptions that both the percentage of cancers that are preventable and their survival rates would be constant between 2023 and 2040. However technological changes, shifts in smoking and obesity rates, and other behavioural changes meant that these assumptions might not hold in future. "They also represent opportunities to reduce future costs," the researchers at the economics consultancy firm said. They anticipated that including improvements to survival over time would increase most cost estimates but decrease costs due to mortality.

A "Stark Reminder" of Lives Lost From Preventable Cancers

Asked to comment on the analysis by Medscape News UK, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said the report was "a stark reminder of the countless lives that could be saved by preventing cancer" as well as highlighting that health prevention strategies could relieve pressures on both the NHS and the economy.  

"Around 4 in 10 cancer cases in the UK are preventable," she said, "but if recent trends continue, smoking could cause around one million more cancer cases in the UK between now and 2040." In addition, the more than 21 million UK adults in the UK who are obese have an increased risk of over 13 types of cancer. 

"This problem is fixable with bold political action," she stressed. However, the 

Government is set to miss its 2030 smokefree ambition, and junk food marketing restrictions have once again been delayed. "We urge the UK Government to implement strong prevention strategies that will mean more people can live healthy lives free from the fear of cancer."

Also commenting to Medscape News UK, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are committed to tackling the causes of preventable cancers to help people live longer, healthier lives and reduce pressure on the NHS."

This included introducing calorie labelling; a £40 million pilot to give eligible patients access to obesity drugs, and a million smokers across England offered free vaping starter kits under the 'swap to stop' scheme. The Government will also consult this year on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts with information to help smokers quit, as part of the ambition to be smokefree by 2030.

"There are record numbers of cancer checks happening in the NHS," and a national targeted lung cancer screening programme is being rolled out to catch cases earlier , the spokesperson added. "We are seeing higher proportion of people than ever before being diagnosed with cancer at an earlier stage."

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