Does the Public Prefer Health Gain for Cancer Patients? A Systematic Review of Public Views on Cancer and its Characteristics

from PharmacoEconomics at on April 29, 2017 at 07:39PM



Policies such as the Cancer Drugs Fund in England assumed a societal preference to fund cancer care relative to other conditions, even if that resulted in lower health gain for the population overall.


The aim of this study was to investigate the evidence for such a preference among the UK public.


The MEDLINE, PubMed and Econlit electronic databases were searched for studies relating to preferences for prioritising cancer treatment, as well as studies relating to preferences for the characteristics of cancer (severity of disease, end-of-life). The searches were run in November 2015 and updated in March 2017. Empirical preference studies, studies of public views, and studies in English were included.


We identified 24 studies relating to cancer preferences. Two directly addressed health trade-offs in the UK—one showed a preference for health gain in cancer, while the other found no such preference but provided results consistent with population health maximisation. Other studies mostly showed support for cancer but did not require a direct health trade-off. Severity and end-of-life searches identified 12 and 6 papers, respectively, which were additional to existing reviews. There is consistent evidence that people give priority to severe illness, while results for end-of-life are mixed.


We did not find consistent support for a preference for health gains to cancer patients in the context of health maximisation. The evidence base is small and the results are highly sensitive to study design. There remains a contradiction between these findings and the popular view of cancer, and further work is required to determine the features of cancer which contribute to that view.