A surge in the number of new cancer cases and in expensive treatments for the disease cost the world around $895 billion in 2008, according to a study calling for urgent solutions.

A team comprising 37 cancer experts from different countries found that the number of new cancer cases annually is rising, estimating that there will be at least 22 million new cancer patients by 2030. They pegged the cost of new cancer cases in 2009 at a minimum of $286 billion when both treatment and loss of productivity are factored in.

That steady rise in the number of new cases, coupled with ballooning costs driven by expensive new technologies and treatment, endangers the ability of countries to deliver affordable cancer care to everyone, the authors warned. They called for policymakers to take swift action to avert a public health crisis.

'At A Crossroads of Affordable Cancer Care'

We are at a crossroads for affordable cancer care, where our choices - or refusal to make choices - will affect the lives of millions of people, Professor Richard Sullivan from the King's Health Partners Integrated Cancer Centre said in a press release. Do we bury our heads in the sand, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that it turns out fine, or do we have difficult debates and make hard choices within a socially responsible, cost-effective, and sustainable framework?

On the policy side, the report's authors called for reforms to health care systems that would alter the current system of incentives and reimbursements for doctors. Other factors that are driving up costs include elevated levels of consumer demand, doctors advocating excessive or expensive treatment to fend off litigation, and futile over-treatment for terminally ill patients, the researchers found.

Making individual patients more sensitive to the costs of care is necessary for an informed public debate around this critical issue,  Sullivan said.

The report also questioned the value of certain drugs, pointing to a prostate cancer treatment that costs more than $100,000 for a three-dose course and extended the lives of some patients by several months.

The cancer community needs to take responsibility and not accept a sub-standard evidence base and an ethos of very small benefit at whatever cost; rather there should be fair prices and real value from new technologies, the press release said.