In most of the richer countries of the world, cancer is one of the major killers, along with cardiovascular diseases. Together, these two major groups of diseases are responsible for about two thirds of the annual deaths. Some figures1 may illuminate the order of magnitude of the problem. For all the types of cancers considered together, the prevalence rate is about 1% of the population and the yearly incidence rate is about 0.5%. It is primarily a disease of the elderly, with an incidence rate for people aged 65 or older more than ten times larger than the incidence for younger people. Almost one tenth of the patients discharged from hospitals have cancer as their primary diagnosis, while the direct medical costs of cancer treatment and care are comparatively low. Most studies show that the share of cancer-related health care services in the yearly direct medical costs borne by the countries concerned is in the order of 5%–7%.
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