Cancer cost "becoming unsustainable" in rich nations

STOCKHOLM Mon Sep 26, 2011 2:23pm EDT

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - An explosion of new technologies and treatments for cancer coupled with a rapid rise in cases of the disease worldwide mean cancer care is rapidly becoming unaffordable in many developed countries, oncology experts said on Monday.

With costs ballooning, a radical shift in thinking is needed to ensure fairer access to medicines and address tricky questions like balancing extra months of life for patients against costs of a new drug, technology or care plan, they said.

"The cancer community needs to take responsibility and not accept a sub-standard evidence base and an ethos of very small benefit at whatever cost," said a report commissioned by the Lancet Oncology medical journal on the costs of cancer care.

"There should be fair prices and real value from new technologies."

Some 12 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer each year and that number is expected to rise to 27 million by 2030.

The cost of new cancer cases is already estimated to be about $286 billion a year, with medical costs making up more than half the economic burden and productivity losses account for nearly a quarter, according to Economist Intelligence United data cited in the report.

The report, led by Richard Sullivan of Britain's King's Health Partners Integrated Cancer Centre in London, said policy-makers, doctors, patients groups and the health industry should work together to find ways to stem future cost rises.

"We are at a crossroads for affordable cancer care, where our choices -- or refusal to make choices -- will affect the lives of millions of people," said Sullivan, who presented his report at the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress (EMCC) in Stockholm.

"Do we bury our heads in the sand, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that it turns out fine, or do we have difficult debates and make hard choices?"

Sullivan's team, which brought together 37 experts from wealthy countries, found that cancer costs are driven by many factors, including aging populations and rising demand for healthcare, as well as increasingly sophisticated and expensive targeted cancer drugs.

Prices for some of the latest experimental drugs unveiled at the EMCC -- including a highly-sophisticated armed antibody drug from Roche and a so-called alpha-pharmaceutical from Bayer and Algeta -- are likely to reach into the tens of thousands of dollars per patient.

The Lancet report pointed to Dendreon's Provenge prostate cancer treatment -- which costs more than $100,000 for a three-dose course and was found in trials to improve survival by several months in patients with few other options.

"How should we determine its value?" the report asked.

Michael Baumann, president of the European Cancer Organisation, said there was an "explosion of new possibilities" in cancer treatment and care. This was exciting for scientists, oncologists and cancer patients, he said, but also made it "absolutely necessary to think about this cost issue now."

(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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Comments (22)
go2goal wrote:
Cancer…..thriving with a big thanks to increased pollution (mainly water & air) and the gift of the western diet (US red meat diet).

There is no question that the world’s cancer rate has climbed as the world accepted so many things from the US….and especially our widespread use of carbon fuels and our totally unhealthy red meat diet.

I hope the rest of the world wakes up…..because we don’t have prayers chance in the US thanks in large part to things like the Cattle and Beef lobby in DC and everyone of the 50 states. Not to mention the likes of Monsanto, DuPont, Exxon and the rest of the corporate polluters.

Sep 26, 2011 8:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
sanjay-jain wrote:
A significant percentage of cancer cases could have been prevented by simple diet changes. Unfortunately there’s no fame and fortune in prevention, and that’s what needs to change.

Sep 26, 2011 9:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
jho8 wrote:
This is a poor argument for the following reason: 99% of the cost of a drug is research and development. If it costs $5 billion to discover and test a drug, and one million patients use it, they pay $5000 each. That’s expensive. However, if you cut the use of the drug by half to half a million patients, you haven’t actually saved any money, because now the company has to charge $10,000 per patient to recover their R&D expenses. The only effect of cutting use of expensive drugs is hurting care, you don’t actually save any money.

Sep 26, 2011 9:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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