Cancer deaths to cost Ireland €73 billion over the next 20 years

Alison Pearce | Chancellor’s Post Doctoral Research Fellow Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation | University of Technology Sydney

When people die from cancer, society loses their contribution to the economy through both paid and unpaid work roles. There will be around 233,000 deaths from cancer in Ireland between 2011 and 2030, and our study estimated that these deaths will result in lost productivity valued at €73 billion. To put these losses into perspective, they represent approximately 1.4% of Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the annual productivity losses are almost double those estimated for cardiovascular disease in Ireland.

In research conducted at the National Cancer Registry Ireland, we used national estimates of cancer mortality, population demographics and economic indicators for Ireland from 2011 to 2030. Following the human capital approach, we then used this data to estimate how many years of productive life were lost from the economy due to cancer mortality, and valued this using average wages. We were able to consider age, gender, earnings, unemployment rate, and workforce participation rates within the analysis.

Lung, colorectal and breast cancer were the most expensive cancers overall, because they are the most common. However, when the number of people effected was taken into account, cancers of the testes, cervix and brain were the most expensive because they affect younger people who are often working.

Of the total loss, only 18% (€13 billion) was a result of lost paid work. The remaining €60 billion was attributable to unpaid activities, such as housework, caring for relative and volunteering activities. These unpaid activities have rarely been included in estimates of the cancer burden in Europe, and we highlight the importance of these roles in obtaining a complete picture of lost productivity.

Dr Alison Pearce, lead researcher on the study, explains that “We know cancer places a large burden on individual patients and their families. This work shows that there is also a potential burden for the Irish economy. By estimating the value of lost productivity because of cancer we can inform policy makers and health services about priorities for cancer care and research in the future.”

Our study found that if Ireland could reduce cancer deaths by 1% per year then €8.5 billion in lost productivity could be saved over 20 years. An ongoing 1% reduction in cancer deaths could be achieved through improved treatments, reducing smoking rates, and ongoing participation in screening programs for breast, colon, and cervical cancer, as well as the roll out of the HPV vaccine.

The National Cancer Registry Ireland collects data on cancer incidence, treatment and survival in Ireland. They carry out research, such as this work, to help improve cancer outcomes and reduce the cancer burden in Ireland. This work was funded by the Health Research Board Ireland, through an Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement Award to Alison Pearce.

For further information the full paper can be viewed at: