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The Cost of Cancer

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HEALTH CARE
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This week we released a new report, Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment - a 2021 Projection. The document paints a somewhat chilling picture of the challenges we face in the near future: with our ageing population, the cost of cancer care in the UK is predicted to rise a staggering 62% within the next decade.

The implications of this are far reaching. Cancer affects one in three of us. It's unlikely that, as you read this, you can't think of someone who has been touched by cancer in some way.

Yet living in our era we have been blessed with huge leaps forward in cancer therapy. A study published last month by Macmillan Cancer Support revealed that, on average, cancer patients can expect to live six times longer today than they did in the 1970s (though this up-beat figure masks huge variations in improvements in the different types of cancer).

Certainly in our society, we have grown to expect the highest quality of care for our cancer patients. But cancer poses a unique challenge to healthcare systems. It is hugely expensive, both to treat and to diagnose effectively.

Cancer care invariably involves cutting edge technology, be it imaging, radiotherapy, laser surgery or targeted drugs. Novel procedures using nanotechnology or the 'cancer vaccines' may not be far from clinical reality. Impressive though these developments may be, they come at a price.

The report looks at the public, private and voluntary sectors in the UK and estimates that in 2010 approximately 318,000 people were diagnosed with cancer at a cost of some £9.4billion. That's the equivalent of £30,000 per cancer patient. Based on these projections, the UK will need an extra £5.9 billion in 2021 to cope with the rising burden of cancer. In an already struggling global economy, how long can society continue to foot the cancer bill?

It is ironic that, in many ways, healthcare is becoming victim (or should I say patient?) of its own success. Never before have we lived so long - and the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop cancer.

To cope with the rising costs of cancer without creating a gulf in care between the rich and the poor, an overhaul to how we approach national cancer therapy will be needed.

To help ensure cancer treatment remains affordable, policies will need to look at how to better manage the introduction of new technologies and therapies. A greater focus on care at home, encouraging better relationships between private and public healthcare, and an emphasis on empowering patient choices are all likely to play a role too.

The government's Health and Social Care Bill is already paving the way for many of these approaches. Let us hope that, if handled well, the changes to our healthcare system will be enough to promise our children the same quality in cancer care that we have grown up to expect.

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