Cancer Breakthrough’s that over deliver in cost and under deliver in effectiveness. Newsweek explores…

Cancer Breakthrough’s that over deliver in cost and under deliver in effectiveness. Newsweek explores…

As we begin our new journey into taking a harder look into the appropriateness of care, cancer care is one of those sacred cows that is now being looked at. Many of the drugs designed to treat cancer are ridiculously expensive, often offering weeks or months of additional life (maybe) while the true breakthrough for what cancer is and why people either die from it has never been either discovered or made public. Cancer is big business, with expensive procedures, drugs and the like while trying to convince the public who has few other well known choices for care visiting the hospital and doctor who offers what that person believes is the best chance for their survival. In exchange for these exorbitant costs (some drugs cost 10k or more per month), many people receive a drug that gives them a small window of time, as long as someone else pays the bill. Is it appropriate, or fair and is the public being taken advantage of in their time of need while they face the prospect of their own mortality? Newsweek explores this ethical dilemma..

The Cancer “Breakthroughs” that Cost Too Much and Do Too Little

‘Death panels’ are a bad idea. But asking hard questions about health care is not.

In his more than 35 years of practice, Dr. Lowell Schnipper has seen a lot of women die from breast cancer. A patient’s options start to dwindle by the time tumor cells set up outposts in the bones, lungs, and other organs, defying all attempts to keep them under control. But in June, when the government approved Perjeta, Schnipper had something new to offer. The drug is one of an innovative class of drugs known as “targeted therapies.”

Medical Center in Boston, Schnipper knew Perjeta was not a cure: combined with Herceptin—another targeted therapy that was hailed as a breakthrough in 1998—Perjeta gives the average woman only about six months of calm before her disease starts to stir again. Given the limited benefit, the price was startling. For most women, a full course of the drug combination will cost $188,000—enough, he says, “to give anybody a cold sweat.”

Americans spent more than $23 billion last year for cancer drugs, more than we paid for prescriptions to treat anything else. But many oncologists are starting to question what we are getting in return for that bill, whether the war on cancer has become too much of a race to produce the next blockbuster. “In general, progress for cancer has been halting and slow,” says David Howard of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University. So far, most new drugs offer only marginal extensions of life and few cures. Howard says new so-called breakthroughs “overpromise and underdeliver.” Consider the popularity of Avastin, a targeted drug approved for metastatic colon cancer in 2004. A recent study found that almost 70 percent of patients on chemotherapy were receiving Avastin within a year of its release. In clinical trials, the drug increased survival by about five months. The cost? About $10,000 a month.

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