You can’t afford to get cancer

OPENING: American cancer patients spent more than $21 billion on their care in 2019. That $21.09 billion included out-of-pocket costs of $16.22 billion and patient time costs of $4.87 billion. As cancer survival rates rise, so do the price tags of life-saving treatments. Monthly drugs costs may reach $100,000, causing many Americans to struggle with the physical and emotional effects of high out-of-pocket medical costs. Even worse, others are completely priced out of the hope for a cure

Among adults 65 and older with Medicare coverage, average annual out-of-pocket costs for medical services and prescription drugs were highest in the initial phase of care (first 12 months after diagnosis) — $2,200 and $243, respectively — and the end-of-life phase (12 months before death) — $3,823 and $448, respectively. Some cancer patients may face out-of-pocket costs of nearly $12,000 a year for one drug.

What makes cancer such a financial killer? Average costs for treatment run in the $150,000 range. The reasons aren’t mysterious. Cancers occur at the cellular level, with abnormal cells dividing and spreading. Containing cancer and killing those abnormal cells without damaging nearby healthy cells often requires a range of treatments over an extended period of time — lengthy radiation, complicated surgeries, costly chemotherapy, plus other strong medications to supercharge your immunity.

11 of the 12 cancer drugs that the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2012 were priced at more than $100,000 per year. Compare that with, say, treating heart disease. Cardio procedures and medicines are well established, and a big part of the solution is lifestyle changes — eating well, exercising, and reducing stress. That’s why treating a heart attack may cost around $39,000.

Why haven’t we invested more in prevention?

Treatment costs are highest among preventable cancers, including lung cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and mesothelioma. Research shows most cancers are preventable. The lifestyle choices we make, the foods we eat, and our physical activity levels impact our cancer risk.

Major cancer studies can’t be replicated 

Researchers with the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology aimed to replicate 193 experiments from 53 top cancer papers published from 2010 to 2012. But only a quarter of those experiments was able to be reproduced, the team reports in two papers published December 7 in Life.

The researchers couldn’t complete the majority of experiments because the team couldn’t gather enough information from the original papers or their authors about methods used, or obtain the necessary materials needed to attempt replication.

Of the 50 experiments from 23 papers that were reproduced, effect sizes were, on average, 85 percent lower than those reported in the original experiments.

Few cancer drugs approved via the accelerated FDA approval pathway were judged to have verified benefits based on improvement in survival reported in confirmatory trials.

Many cancer patients depend on the accelerated drug approval program, which provides access to new cancer drugs faster but according to Jama, the promise of these drugs may not be in line with reality.

The new study, published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Tuesday, found that among cancer drugs that received accelerated approval from the FDA using surrogate endpoints or other measures, only one-fifth ended up improving overall survival rates in later confirmatory trials.

Many cancer patients without adequate insurance have only the starkest choice: your money or your life. Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, the chair of the leukemia department at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, argues the prices of these new cancer drugs are “absolutely immoral.”

The U.S. needs to take substantial steps to address the high costs of cancer drugs. From 2009 to 2019, the median monthly treatment costs for new drugs at launch reached $11,755 in the U.S… Does the question become how much is a month(s) of other life worth?