Breast cancer could cost UK economy £3.6bn yearly by 2034, new report says

In 2024 total cost of breast cancer to UK economy estimated to be £2.6 to £2.8bn

Jane Kirby
Monday 22 January 2024 04:31 GMT
How to check for breast cancer

The yearly cost of breast cancer to the UK economy could rise by almost 40 per cent to £3.6bn by 2034, according to a new report.

The study, from the think tank Demos and the charity Breast Cancer Now, set out the stark rises that could be expected if no action was taken to improve screening rates and cut advanced cancer cases.

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 £2.6 to £2.8bn, or around 0.1 per cent 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 increased by 14.8 per cent to 64,708 cases.

Researchers also looked at the “true human cost of breast cancer”, with well-being costs associated with breast cancer estimated to amount to £17.5 billion in 2024.

These revealing, first-of-their-kind, estimates of the economic and well-being costs of breast cancer in the UK show that breast cancer is far from being a ‘done deal’, and the consequences of us failing to act now are dire

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Breast Cancer Now

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: “These revealing, first-of-their-kind, estimates of the economic and well-being costs of breast cancer in the UK show that 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 well-being and quality of life have deteriorated.

“While 98% of women diagnosed at stage 1 survive for five years or more, we cannot afford to be complacent about breast cancer – it’s the most common cancer in the world and cases are rising.

These interventions are not radically new ideas - they all exist in some form in our current system. What our analysis shows is that we simply need to be doing more of them

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Breast Cancer Now

“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 4, when the cancer has spread to another part of the body and become incurable, is bleak, with around 26 per cent – 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.

“These interventions are not radically new ideas – they all exist in some form in our current system,” the study said.

“What our analysis shows is that we simply need to be doing more of them.”

For example, increasing the screening uptake to 80% would lead to economic savings in the range of £96 million to £111 million in 2034.

Current figures show that 62.3 per cent 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.

The study said “breast cancer can be related to lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity”.

“There are clearly great opportunities in the prevention space to tackle the incidence of breast cancer through public health interventions and support,” it stated.

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

Lucy Bush, Demos

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 said: “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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