Compared to the economic impact of premature death and disability of all causes of death, cancer has the greatest cost worldwide. These findings were recently published in a report from the American Cancer Society and the LIVESTRONG organization.

Cancer care costs are a financial burden to patients, their families, and society as a whole. In 2006 medical expenses from cancer care in the United States were an estimated $104.1 billion. As the population ages, costs are expected to continue to increase as cancer prevalence rises. In addition, the development of expensive, targeted treatment strategies that are becoming the standard of care will most likely increase cancer costs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) between 2004 and 2030, global cancer deaths will increase from 7.4 million to 11.8 million and cancer will be the leading cause of death this year followed by heart disease and stroke.

In the current study, researchers evaluated data on death and disability from illness from the WHO and analyzed it in order to come up with a measure describing the overall burden of disease in terms of a disability-adjusted life year (DALY). To determine economic burden, researchers estimated the economic value of a year of healthy life. Data were analyzed for 17 types of cancer and 15 leading causes of death. In addition, countries worldwide were classified by income.

  • In 2008, the cost of premature death and disability but not direct medical costs from cancer was $895 billion worldwide compared with $753 billion for heart disease
  • Wordwide, cancer results in greatest cost from premature death and disability of all causes of death
  • Lost productivity and lost years of life are responsible for cancer’s largest drain on economy
  • Lung, colorectal and breast cancer are associated with greatest cost worldwide due to death and disability
  • In poorer countries, head and neck cancers, cervical cancer and breast cancer are associated with the greatest cost due to death and disability

The researchers concluded that these data support the need for global health strategies to improve cancer treatment and prevention, particularly in poorer countries in order to improve health outcomes and decrease the global economic impact of cancer. The agenda of the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries (GTF.CCC) which was recently convened in 2009 will hopefully make a worldwide impact on cancer through developing and implementing strategies to provide poorer countries with cancer prevention and treatment.


John R and Ross H. The Global Economic Cost of Cancer. American Cancer Society and the LIVESTRONG organization. 2010.

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