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Cancer Is World’s Top ‘Economic Killer,’ Report Finds

Cancer, expected to emerge as the leading cause of death worldwide this year, is also the world’s top “economic killer,” according to an American Cancer Society/LIVESTRONG report the groups will present during a global cancer conference in China this week, the Associated Press reports.

“Cancer costs more in productivity and lost life than AIDS, malaria, the flu and other diseases that spread person-to-person, the report concludes,” the news service writes (Marchione, 8/16).

For the report, “researchers used computations taken from the World Health Organization that combine the death and disability dimensions of illness into a single summary, called a DALY (disability-adjusted life year), for 17 types of cancer as well as the 15 leading causes of death,” according to an American Cancer Society/LIVESTRONG press release (8/16). “Cancer’s economic toll was $895 billion in 2008 – equivalent to 1.5 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, the report says,” the AP continues (8/16).

“The economic toll from cancer … is nearly 20 percent higher than heart disease, the second leading cause of economic loss ($753 billion),” Press Trust of India/Business Standard reports, adding that researchers’ tally of the economic toll of cancer did not include the costs associated with treating the disease. Cancers of the lung, bronchus and trachea together account for the largest economic toll, totaling nearly $180 billion worldwide, according to the news service (8/17).

“Cancer’s human toll, in terms of suffering and death, is tragic and largely preventable,” said John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, according to the press release. “We now know that without immediate intervention, the burden of cancer will grow enormously in low- and middle income countries, with demands on health care systems and economic costs that are more than these developing economies can bear.”

According to the press release, in the least-developed countries “cancers of the mouth and oropharynx, cervix, and breast have the greatest impact. Available interventions to prevent, detect, and/or treat these common cancers could not only save lives but also improve economic development prospects in many nations” (8/16).

The AP continues: “The World Health Organization has long predicted that cancer would overtake heart disease this year as the leading cause of death. About 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2008, and about 12.4 million new cases are diagnosed each year.” The article examines several reasons why cancer, as well as other chronic diseases, have increased while there have been reductions in infectious disease rates, and how such findings are fueling health advocates to call for greater attention to be paid towards efforts to treat chronic diseases.

The article notes that the U.N. General Assembly plans to address funding for programs to reduce the toll of non-communicable disease at a meeting next year. “Some policy experts are comparing it to the global initiative that led to big increases in spending on AIDS nearly a decade ago,” the news service adds.

“‘This needs to be discussed at the U.N. – how we are going to deal with this’ rising burden of chronic disease, said Dr. Andreas Ullrich, medical officer for cancer control at WHO,” the AP reports. “The answer is ‘not a fight against each other,’ but more cooperation on areas that overlap, such as cancers with infectious causes, such as cervical cancer and HPV, human papillomavirus, Ullrich said.”

The AP also details the results of Monday’s Lancet study which proposed ways to eliminate the growing cancer burden in developing countries. “Only 5 percent of cancer treatment and prevention money goes to the countries that bear 80 percent of the burden of the disease, said” Julio Frenk, dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health, who was a co-author on the study (8/16). PTI/Business Standard also adds details about the results of the Lancet study (8/16).