Cancer costs European countries 124 billion euros (£99bn) every year, according to the first estimate of the full economic burden of the disease in the EU.

Lung cancer incurred the biggest total cost, amounting to 19 billion euros (£15bn). This was mostly the result of losses caused by patients dying prematurely.

For healthcare alone, the most expensive disease was breast cancer. At six billion euros (£5bn), it was responsible for 13 per cent of cancer healthcare costs.

Scientists pooled together data from the World Health Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), national surveys, and government departments.

From their analysis they worked out the combined cost of treatment, social care, and lost productivity due to cancer.

Direct healthcare costs were also calculated for each of the 27 countries included in the research.

They showed that Lithuania spent the least on cancer healthcare, around 7,550 euros (£6,026) per patient with a per capita cost of 32 euros (£25.50) per person per year.

Germany had the highest healthcare cost, spending an average of 28,269 euros (£22,563) on every cancer case. It had a per-capita expenditure of 165 euros (£132).

The UK spent 17,619 euros (£14,062) per case and 88 euros (£70) per head of population.

Study leader Ramon Luengo-Fernandez, from Oxford University, said: “Cancer poses a considerable economic burden not only to healthcare systems but to other areas of the economy, including productivity losses through early mortality and time off work, and relatives who have to forego work/leisure to care for cancer patients.

“Healthcare systems will have a good idea, I expect, of the healthcare costs of providing cancer care to their patients. However, the productivity losses and informal care costs associated with cancer will be less well understood and their magnitude less appreciated.”

The findings were presented today at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting in Vienna.

The scientists focused on four of the most common cancers, lung, bowel, breast and prostate.

Commenting on the results, Peter Boyle, president of the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France, said: “It is essential that the economic impact of cancer on a community is known, understood and placed in its perspective.”