If America cut deaths from cancer by just one per cent it could boost its economy by as much as $500 billion, a leading economist has suggested, and making even modest improvements against the major diseases that beset the West would be immensely valuable to all European economies.
Kevin Murphy, professor of economics at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, has spent the past few years developing an economic model to asses the value of health improvements.
For instance, improvements in life-expectancy in the U.S since 1972 have added $3.2 trillion per year to the country's national wealth, he estimated.
While some of these gains were, of course, offset by the cost of developing and implementing health improvements, they were nevertheless a potent argument in making the case for employers and governments to do and spend more to improve health.
"The US invests some $60 billion annually on medical research, of which about 40% is federally funded. But are these expenditures warranted?" asked Prof Murphy.
"For example, take our estimate that a 1% reduction in cancer reduction would be worth about $500 billion.
"Then a 'war on cancer' that would spend an additional $100 billion on cancer research would be worthwhile if it had a one in five chance of reducing mortality by 1% and four in five chance of doing nothing at all," he added
Improvements in life expectancy raised willingness to pay for further health improvements by increasing the value of remaining life, argued Murphy in The Journal of Political Economy.
This meant advances against one disease, for instance heart disease, raised the value of progress against other age-related ailments such as cancer or Alzheimer's, he suggested.