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Medicare and cancer drugs: A disturbing trend of denying treatment to the sick

Posted by on November 17, 2010 in RCC News & Research - 1 Comment


Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in U.S. News & World Report. Click here to read “Medicare and Cancer Drugs” in full.

The government is investing millions into what it frames as a wonderful-sounding exercise to find and promote the best possible treatments for the sick. From this, bureaucracies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service then set rules on who gets access to certain treatments. Private insurance companies usually follow suit.

Unfortunately, “best” treatment is often a euphemism for “cheapest.” And if you’re one of the poor saps who might require a costly drug to live, you may not be considered a good return on investment by the accountants working for the U.S. Government.

I’m one of those poor saps.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma – kidney cancer. It’s a rarer form of cancer than breast, lung or prostate cancer, and it generally gets less attention than those better-known diseases. It is notoriously resistant to chemotherapy and radiation, common treatments for other cancers. Despite this, it gets less funding for research to find new treatments.

Despite being the red-headed step-mutation of the cancer community, kidney cancer research has developed some breakthroughs in the last five years or so. For example Sutent, a kind of wonder drug for kidney patients, has come to market. Prior to this breakthrough there were few options.

Sutent, however, is one of those expensive drugs. In England, kidney cancer patients were long denied access to it. It was too expensive, and it only kept people alive for about eleven months. So why bother? Those of us across the pond watched in horror as kidney cancer patients pleaded to largely uninterested government workers to give them access to the only drug that could offer them hope.

Why does this matter in the United States? We’re now seeing these same debates emerge in Washington. There has developed a disturbing pattern of decisions by U.S. government panels to revisit FDA approved cancer drugs like Provenge and Avastin to determine if they are “cost effective.”  (Of course, with a wink and a nod the FDA denies cost is a factor.) Equally disturbing is the pattern of misinformed articles published in the mainstream media about these government decisions.

For example, the media tend to characterize the progression of disease as being the same thing as dying. Luckily for those of us with cancer, this is wildly inaccurate.

So I’d like clarify some phrases — like progression free survival and median – that are frequently used, or misused, by bureaucrats in the government and media alike to justify blocking access to these drugs.

The above is an excerpt of the article, to read the full article go to “Medicare and Cancer Drugs,” published by U.S. News & World Report.



  • Pip Lastname

    FFS it’s prostate not prostrate. Change your tags.

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