Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Is Cancer cooler than Dementia?

Should you have to get a serious illness may I recommend cancer? You get all the advantages. You get special parking spaces closer to the hospital (well at my local one anyway), you get all the sympathy you can deal with, you have quite a good chance of having it successfully treated (depending on which type you of cancer you have, obviously) and you will get 80% of the research funding pot. May I compliment those of you who work for cancer charities for you have done an excellent job; you have the disease with the best PR.

The national obsession with cancer has always worried and intrigued me a little. How has one life threatening condition become so prevalent (research money wise) over all the others?

A report out today, from the Alzheimer's Research Trust, has attempted to shine a light on the disparity in research funding and has come up with some startling numbers.

The number of people suffering from Dementia is 821,884, which is 15% higher than had previously been estimated, and it costs the UK £23bn annually.

Whilst it is slightly dehumanising to describe the impact of a disease purely in financial terms some of the numbers are so staggering that, in this case, it is useful. Every dementia patient costs the economy £27,647 each year. This is a lot of money but how does that compare to a cancer patient? Well it’s nearly five times more than a cancer patient, and eight times more than those with heart disease. The costs mostly come not from direct NHS interventions but from unpaid carers and by long-term institutional care.

The funding of research, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. With both Charity and Government money it comes to nearly £600m a year for cancer research. This is 12 times that of dementia, which only gets some £50m. Heart disease received three times as much. Only stroke research received less.

But there are so many more people with cancer and likely to get cancer I hear you say. This is true and I accept your point so let’s look at figures for spend per patient. For each person with cancer £295 is spent on research. For each person with Dementia it is £61.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not, in anyway, trying to take away anything from people suffering from cancer, my father-in-law died from it last year and he received excellent hospice care, and that is sort of my point. Would he have got equally good end of life care if he had been suffering from a longer term but equally fatal disease such as dementia? I don’t know.

I made a flippant comment in the first paragraph that cancer has better PR and, therefore, better funding and I don’t really want that to be true but after years of awareness raising the Government made it a priority and we got a Cancer Tsar (no, I don’t know what that is either). More awareness raising by Heart disease charities and we have a new NHS frameworks to deal with it. Good work all round if you ask me but it does mean that other things miss out.

I also understand that the high levels of funding have resulted in massive steps forward in the care and treatment that people with heart disease and cancer receive which now gives them much greater chances of survival. This is great but maybe it is now time to look at other things. With a constantly ageing population it is expected that 1million people will have dementia/Alzheimer's by 2025.

Hopefully a survey like this and the excellent press coverage that it is getting will help raise some awareness, and maybe money, about this issue as well.

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