Oxford University research, presented to the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool on Wednesday, found cancers cost the UK £15.8bn each year.
Around £7.6bn is lost due to premature deaths and time off work and £2.6bn from unpaid caring by family and friends. Just over a third of the actual cost of cancer - £5.6bn - is spent on healthcare.
Each lung cancer patient costs the NHS £9,071 annually with total costs to the economy of £2.4bn - more than any other cancer.
Researchers suggested greater priority should be given to help people stop smoking, which causes more than eight in 10 cases.
Research lead Dr Jose Leal of the Health Economics Research Centre at Oxford University said: 'Our research shows that cancers impact the economy as a whole - and not just the health service.'
He said the wider economic costs should be factored into deciding research priorities.
Dr Jane Cope, director of the NCRI, said: 'These figures remind us that cancer has a cost, not just in professional healthcare but also in loss of earnings for patients, and for loved ones who give up work to look after them. Since 86% of lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking, we can reduce these financial and societal costs by helping people to stop smoking.'