Beating bowel cancer together

Bowel cancer costs the UK £1.74 billion a year, a new report shows. What are the key recommendations?

Thursday 5 November 2020

Earlier in October, we responded to a new report, commissioned by Digestive Cancers Europe, which calculated the bowel cancer costs for the UK economy to be more than £1.7 billion a year.

It paints a stark picture of the economic impact digestive cancers impose on society. This is echoed across Europe, with bowel cancer costing a total of £17.1 billion (€19 billion) for the EU-27 member states, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the UK.

What do these costs include?

There are three types of costs that are included in the report:

  1. Direct costs – this includes the costs of screening, treatments, drugs and healthcare professionals
  2. Informal costs – these include important complementary services such as the many hours of unpaid care spent by family and friends. For example, when taking patients to hospital appointments and providing care at home
  3. Indirect costs – costs that occur when people are unable to work.

The report shows the amount of money spent on bowel cancer care outside the healthcare system (the informal and indirect costs) is large – similar to the direct costs spent in the healthcare system.

Research and decisions made in policy are often based on direct costs, but not on the informal and indirect costs of cancer care. This report shows that it is important to acknowledge the full cost of cancer to develop optimal cancer specific policies to improve cancer care.

What does the report recommend?

1. Better management of cancer at each stage of the patient journey could improve a patient’s quality of life, chances of survival, and reduce costs:

  • Prevention – promote a healthy lifestyle, raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and risk factors such as genetics and family history, and empower GPs to confidently refer people with symptoms
  • Screening – improve early detection, informing and educating GPs about early symptoms, and accurate diagnosis
  • Treatment – accurate diagnosis and medical expertise and to improve access to up-to-date treatments and targeted therapies.

2. Promote research into the costs of cancer to fully grasp the magnitude of all the expenses. This can lead to better, more informed future cancer policies.

3. Develop cancer specific policies:

  • that take into account the full patient journey, from prevention, early detection and treatment, to follow-up, return to work or end of life care;
  • that also consider informal care and indirect costs – not just the direct costs from cancer treatment.

4. Empower cancer-specific patient organisations to offer patient support and lead in working together with a range of stakeholders in the design of best treatment and care.

What are we doing?

1. We produce high quality, accurate and up-to-date health information to support people affected by bowel cancer. We promote living a healthy lifestyle, raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and produce a full range of publications that you can download for free. For example, the symptoms diary, which aims to help you keep track of any of your symptoms before you speak to your doctor.

2. We're committed to working closely with healthcare professionals. We provide learning opportunities and practical resources to support early diagnosis and the best possible treatment and care. We support our Professionals Network and the National Colorectal Cancer Nurses Network and work with leading experts in our medical advisory and scientific advisory boards.

3. We campaign to improve early diagnosis by pushing for improvements to bowel cancer screening in all four nations, including screening from the age of 50, in line with Scotland, and using the most effective screening test, known as FIT.

4. We’re campaigning to improve access to treatment and quality of life, particularly for those diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer.

  • The full report by Digestive Cancers Europe, from The Swedish Institute for Health Economics, can be found here.
  • Read and download our full range of health information publications.

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