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“One person, one diagnosis, but a whole family impacted” – how Pfizer is working collaboratively to help reduce cancer’s ‘Ripple Effect’

Erling Donnelly
Head of Oncology, Pfizer UK

12th February 2020

A cancer diagnosis can be life changing. Cancer rates are rising and now more than one in two of us will receive the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis.1 However, thanks to advancements in care, more people than ever will survive the disease2 - though this doesn’t mean we should ignore the emotional and psychological toll of cancer. Cancer has a life changing impact, not only for the person who is diagnosed but also the person in the room with them, their wider family and friends.


The impact of a cancer diagnosis doesn’t stop at the moment the patient is diagnosed. As more people live longer with cancer, it is becoming a long-term condition.3 This creates a new challenge – how to support people and those around them to live well with, and beyond, cancer.

This is why Pfizer commissioned leading UK think tank Demos to examine the social and economic impact – the ripple effect - that cancer has on people, their family and friends, and the wider UK economy. This research quantifies the way in which the consequences of cancer impacts working patterns, finances, childcare, employment and relationships; and it makes a series of policy recommendations to reduce the ‘ripple effect’ of cancer.4

The findings in Cancer Costs are striking. They calculate the total economic cost of cancer to the UK to be approximately £1.4 billion a year in lost wages and benefits rising to £7.6 billion if you take into account mortality. Once diagnosed, cancer patients and their family and friends can experience financial difficulties and disadvantages in the employment market – around half are forced to make changes to their working patterns. Women are hit particularly hard – with 55 per cent of women changing their working patterns after diagnosis compared to just 40 per cent of men.

A cancer diagnosis also has a significant social impact. Demos found 76 per cent of individuals reported that cancer has negatively impacted their family life. A further 66 per cent stated that cancer has put a serious strain on their family’s social life.

It is crucial that we now look at what it means to live with cancer and take steps to reduce the ‘ripple effect’

So what do we do about this? The report recommends a range of policy changes designed to support patients at all parts of their journey. These range from raising NHS spending on cancer to meet the EU average by 2030 at the latest, a full commitment from the NHS to personalised care, extending pensions freedoms, providing free relationship counselling, introducing statutory carers leave, and providing a flexible system of part-time sick leave entitlements – reflecting the successful model introduced in Finland. 

These recommendations will resonate with the difficulties so many face. It is now important we act upon them, and that the Government, the NHS and industry create longer-term strategies to ensure that patients are able to deal with the emotional, social and financial hardship of cancer. At Pfizer, we are keen to play our part. Our commitment is that we will always strive to work collaboratively to help to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment; and support people who are living with cancer.

This is why we work with NHS trusts to help them evaluate their cancer care pathways and drive improvements and efficiencies. We also develop medicines to help people quit smoking, invest in cancer diagnostics and develop innovative new medicines that help patients to live better and for longer with cancer.

We are also exploring how new developments in artificial intelligence can drive improvements in cancer care. Pfizer has provided an educational grant to enable the Velindre Cancer Centre to collaborate with IBM Watson to explore how a digital platform like artificial intelligence can educate and empower lung and metastatic breast cancer patients to manage their health throughout their cancer care.

We are proud of the work that Pfizer does in the UK and we are delighted to be able to support this important piece of work. Through breakthrough science and innovative new treatments, we are transforming survival rates. It is crucial that we now look at what it means to live with cancer and take steps to reduce the ‘ripple effect’.



  1. Cancer Research UK, Cancer risk statistics Accessed May 2019.
  2. Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107 (7):1195-202.
  3. Macmillan Cancer Support, ‘Cancer as a Long-Term Condition: Practice Nurse Pilot Evaluation’, 2013. Accessed January 2020.
  4. Demos. 'Cancer Costs: a ripple effect analysis of cancer's wider impact'. January 2020.


PP-ONC-GBR-1303 / Jan 2020