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28 July 2021

Researchers examine economic burden of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer constitutes 12% of all cancers across Europe.

bowel cancer thumbnail

It is one of the most significant cancers affecting both men and women in terms of numbers of patients needed to be treated and in terms of impact of death and disability.

Another unique feature of bowel cancer is that in order to achieve good outcomes, health systems need a combination of early diagnosis (often determined by socio-economic conditions), surgery, radiotherapy, and systemic therapies. Thus, because this cancer impacts such a large proportion of society and requires end-to-end management in public policy, it is able to reflect both the strengths and weaknesses of overall cancer systems.

Researchers from the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences, led by Professor Richard Sullivan, in collaboration with Professor Mark Lawler at Queen’s University Belfast carried out a detailed examination of the economic burden by countries in the EU, including the U.K, of bowel cancer. This looked at the costs for treatment, the levels of informal expenditure that bowel cancer patients and families have to spend, and what the costs are to countries’ economics due to premature mortality and morbidity from bowel cancer.

This study looks at both direct and indirect costs from two different perspective, thus enabling us to ask comparative questions such as ‘are we getting good value for money that is being spent on care? Are some bowel cancer patients in certain countries being forced to pay out of pocket?

Professor Richard Sullivan, Director at Institute of Cancer Policy

This work is part of a long running program looking at issues on cancer affordability, value and broader questions of health economic which first started in 2011. A decade later, key papers in this area have been published, the most recent being the economic impact of delays in cancer diagnosis in England due to COVID-19.

This paper has also revealed the extent to which there have been productivity losses to the economy due to premature bowel cancer mortality, and an increase in costs of systemic therapies that is unlinked to better health outcomes.

Overall, the researchers conclude that there is no shown relationship between direct spend on treatment and outcomes, demonstrating a significant problem with cancer systems and their impact on outcomes across Europe.

Our work reflects divergences between the costs of bowel cancer care and better outcomes with many countries spending too much or too little on bowel cancer care. We are seeing divergence between national cancer control planning and the increasingly complex and expensive treatment of today’s cancer patients.

Professor Richard Sullivan

The team of researchers are part of the Organisation European Cancer Institute (OECI) working group, aiming to further link health economics with cancer research, particularly national research funding agencies.

Read the full paper. 

In this story

Richard  Sullivan

Director, Institute of Cancer Policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Conflict & Health Research