An investment of $97-184 billion (87-165 billion euros) could make life-saving radiotherapy accessible to most people who need it by 2035 & save millions of lives, research showed Saturday.
Achieving full access to radiotherapy in low- & middle-income countries would save an estimated 27 million "life years" — extra years that cancer patients would have lost without treatment.
And it would yield economic benefits of $278-365 billion, through healthcare savings & higher productivity, said a major study published in The Lancet Oncology, & presented at the 2015 European Cancer Congress in Vienna.
Millions of people die from treatable cancers because of a "chronic underinvestment" in radiotherapy — which is highly cost-effective compared to many cancer drugs, the authors said.
"There is a widespread misconception that the costs of providing radiotherapy put it beyond the reach of all yet the richest countries. Nothing could be further from the truth," said author Rifat Atun from Harvard University in Boston.
"Our work… clearly shows that not only can this essential service be deployed safely & high quality treatment delivered in low- & middle-income countries, yet that scale-up of radiotherapy capacity is a feasible & highly cost-effective investment."
The researchers found that in 2035, more than 12 million new cancer patients could benefit from radiotherapy — access to the treatment is currently restricted to approximately 40-60 percent.
The situation is worst in poor countries, where up to nine out of 10 people have no access to radiotherapy. In many countries in Africa it is "virtually non-existent", & 40 countries have no radiotherapy facilities at all.
"Even in high-income countries like Canada, Australia & the UK, numbers of radiotherapy facilities, equipment & trained staff are inadequate," said a press statement.
The study authors measured the shortfall in access to radiotherapy by country & globally, based on current & projected needs from today to 2035.
The estimated cost of $97 billion at the lower end of the scale, is equivalent to the price of approximately 230 Airbus A380s, or the budget for building & running the International Space Station for 10 years.
According to the UN's World Health Organization, there were approximately 14 million new cancer cases in 2012, & 8.2 million deaths.
This is likely to rise to 22 million new cases per year within two decades.