The Increasing Cost of Cancer Care

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It is believed that this crisis 'is not simply due to an increase in absolute numbers or need for optimised treatments, rather it relates to the unsustainable rate of increase in expenditure on cancer within health-care systems.' The report criticises healthcare professionals for 'overusing' the available treatments and technologies. There is also a criticism of 'futile care', where chemotherapy is provided in the last few weeks of a patient's life which gives no medical benefit.

Around 12 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer each year and that figure is expected to reach 27 million by 2030. The report produced states that most developed countries allocate between 4% and 7% of their healthcare budgets towards dealing with cancer. Concern is expressed over the expected rate of increase in cancer care spending in the future, referred to as the cost curve. As an example, the report cites that within the last 4 years, spending on breast cancer in the United Kingdom alone has increased by 10%.

Although healthcare spending needs to be monitored, particularly in these difficult economic times, it should be remembered that spending decisions, particularly within the NHS, are already carefully scrutinised. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) frequently reports on the efficacy of proposed treatment options and already takes the economic implications into account. 

More importantly, and on a more personal level, the potential benefit that these treatments can bring to individuals diagnosed with cancer cannot be underestimated, even if the treatment is not effective for all sufferers. How can you measure the "benefit" to any one individual of improving their chances of long-term survival by 10%, or extending their life expectancy, even by just a few months? There are regularly stories in the media where much joy has been given to extremely grateful patients and their families, because, with the help of a particular treatment, they have survived to experience a landmark experience in their or their loved ones' lives.

Furthermore, doctors train for years to be able to improve and extend the lives of their patients. If a potential benefit has been shown from a treatment in a properly controlled study, most doctors would find it very difficult to justify refusal of such treatment, even on financial grounds.

Here in the Clinical Negligence team at Blake Lapthorn, we have been contacted by many individuals who have sadly been affected by cancer. Many question a delay in their diagnosis and almost all want to be given the very best chance of beating the disease for as long as possible. I have seen clients who have experienced immeasurable improvements to their health and quality of life because of the modern treatments that have been developed. Whilst I do of course appreciate the economic implications of the development and administration of new treatments, I struggle to see how you can put a price on this. 

The increase in incidences of cancer worldwide is very concerning but new treatments are being developed all the time. I for one know that if I or a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer, I would want all treatment options to be available. There are surely some aspects of life, where money is not the most important consideration.

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Kym Provan

Senior Solicitor - Clinical Negligence Team

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