Sustainable oncology care: a European perspective

March 06, 2024


Sustainable oncology care: a European perspective

March 06, 2024

Michael Guterbock

Senior Consultant, Economist Impact, Policy and insights

Michael is a Senior Consultant with Economist Impact’s Policy Team. He works with global clients developing and delivering evidence-based policy projects across a wide range of priority areas and manages Economist Impact research teams. Prior to consulting with the Economist Group, Michael worked in disaster preparedness and humanitarian assistance consulting, as well as on policy design and implementation with the US Federal Government. Michael holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a Master’s degree in Global Health from The University of Michigan, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Cancer incidence is growing worldwide, putting financial pressure on health systems. In 2020 an estimated 18.1m new cancer cases were diagnosed. Projections suggest that cancer incidence will increase by 55% by 2040.1 Although roughly 50% of cancers occur in people aged 65 and older, there was a dramatic 79% rise of cancer cases in patients under 50 years old between 1990 and 2019.2 This increase was largely associated with behavioural factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and diets high in meat and salt.3 New cancer cases rose by 2.3% in Europe between 2020 and 2022, reaching 2.74m.4 There are geographical variations of incidence and mortality across Europe; in western and northern European countries there is a higher incidence of cancer, but in eastern Europe, mortality is higher.4 Socioeconomic factors are driving variations between and within countries, with mortality higher in more deprived areas on average.5,6


Countries have taken important steps to stem the growth of cancer. Most health systems have now established strategies to improve outcomes. The European Commission has set out a Beating Cancer Plan that includes greater emphasis on prevention, quality of life of survivors, and strengthening access to innovative diagnostics and treatments.7,8


A step change is urgently needed. Alongside its devastating human impact, cancer imposes a heavy toll on economies through loss of productivity, unemployment and labour losses.9 In 2018 total expenditure on cancer in Europe was estimated to be €199bn (US$216.2bn; 6.2% of total health expenditure), €103bn of which was associated with care-related costs and €32bn spent on cancer drugs.10 Health systems need to improve the efficiency of spending and find workable and sustainable financing and reimbursement arrangements to lessen the economic toll of cancer. This report assesses the critical factors broadly shaping access and affordability.



1 Cancer Research UK. Worldwide cancer incidence statistics United Kingdom2023 [Available from:].
2 Van Herck Y, Feyaerts A, Alibhai S, et al. Is cancer biology different in older patients? The Lancet Healthy Longevity. 2021;2(10):e663-e77.
3 Zhao J, Xu L, Sun J, et al. Global trends in incidence, death, burden and risk factors of early-onset cancer from 1990 to 2019. BMJ Oncology. 2023;2(1):e000049.
4 Joint Research Centre. Cancer cases and deaths on the rise in the EU: European Commission; 2023 [Available from:].
5 Tetzlaff F, Nowossadeck E, Jansen L, et al. Widening area-based socioeconomic inequalities in cancer mortality in Germany between 2003 and 2019. Scientific Reports. 2023;13(1):17833.
6 Vaccarella S, Georges D, Bray F, et al. Socioeconomic inequalities in cancer mortality between and within countries in Europe: a population-based study. The Lancet Regional Health – Europe. 2023;25.
7 Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: European Commission; 2021 [Available from:].
8 European Commission. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: A new EU approach to prevention, treatment and care 2021 [Available from:].
9 Chen S, Cao Z, Prettner K, et al. Estimates and Projections of the Global Economic Cost of 29 Cancers in 204 Countries and Territories From 2020 to 2050. JAMA Oncology. 2023;9(4):465-72.
10 Hofmarcher T, Lindgren P, Wilking N, et al. The cost of cancer in Europe 2018. European Journal of Cancer. 2020;129:41-9.

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