EU Spent $171 Billion on Cancer in 2009, Researchers Say

The European Union spent 126 billion euros ($171 billion) on cancer costs in 2009, according to a study by U.K. researchers that may help officials choose where to spend to fight disease.

Health care accounted for 51 billion euros, or about 40 percent, of the spending, they wrote in the journal Lancet Oncology. Drugs accounted for 13.6 billion euros of the medical costs. Other expenses stemmed from care and lost productivity, according to the study funded by New York-based drugmaker Pfizer Inc.

“Cancer is one of the biggest stressors on the health system in terms of cost,” Richard Sullivan, one of the authors and a professor of cancer policy and global health at King’s College London, said in a telephone interview. “As these countries’ economies are starting to implode under the weight of debt, cancer care is starting to drop off.”

The work is the first EU-wide study of cancer costs and may enable policy makers to better allocate funding, which may improve outcomes, he said. The union had 27 members in 2009.

The data in the study included the cost of care provided by relatives and friends and lost productivity due to premature death and illness. Those informal care costs were estimated in the study at 23.2 billion euros and lost productivity at 52 billion euros.

On average the EU spent 102 euros a person on cancer-related health care, compared with $255 per person in the U.S., which is more than any country in Europe, the authors wrote.

Higher Prices

“The U.S. has absorbed more significantly higher drug prices and they’re not getting the benefits for the price of those drugs,” Sullivan said.

Luxembourg and Germany spent the most per person on health care for cancer and Bulgaria and Lithuania spent the least. Countries that spent above the EU average tended to have belonged to the union longer, compared with those that spent less, which tended to have joined the EU after the 2004 accession that added 10 countries.

“People think of Europe as being this homogeneous group,” Sullivan said. “That’s just not true. There are these huge disparities.” He’s doing further research on the relationship between spending on cancer care and outcomes, he said.

In absolute terms, Germany had the highest cost from cancer at 35.1 billion euros, according to the study.

The researchers used data collected by international organizations such as the World Health Organization and Eurostat, as well as national health ministries and statistical institutes. They weren’t able to obtain data about some costs, such as screening programs, which weren’t available for all the countries studied.