The High Cost of Cancer Drugs

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on October 28, 2013

New drugs could extend cancer patients’ lives—by days. At a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars. Prompting some doctors to refuse to use them – by Stephen S. Hall, New York Magazine, October 20, 2013

“Cancer drugs have become a very big business, even though they serve what one expert has described as a “boutique” market. An estimated 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and more than 580,000 people will die from some form of malignancy. In 2012, the overall market for “oncologics” reached nearly $26 billion a year in the U.S. alone, and annual global sales are projected to total $85 billion by 2016, according to the IMS Institute for Health Informatics. What is sobering about this booming business is that, as a group of oncologists wrote earlier this year, “most anti-cancer drugs provide minor survival benefits, if at all.” They often (but not always) reduce the size of inoperable tumors, but they rarely eradicate the disease. For relatively uncommon malignancies like testicular cancer, some forms of leukemia, and lymphoma, drugs effectively cure the disease; for the common “solid tumor” cancers (lung, breast, colon, prostate, and so on), which account for the vast majority of annual cases, drugs buy some time—precious time, to be sure, but time usually measured in weeks and months rather than years. And even though many of the newer drugs are less toxic, they often still have to be given with older drugs whose side effects include nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and decreasing blood counts.’

Posted in Economy, Health Care

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