Cancer treatment plans and medications can be extremely difficult on patients mentally, physically and financially. What are oncologists saying you need to know?

The New York Times reports on oncologists’ opinions on cancer pharmaceuticals and treatment options. Some expert oncologists are offering a way for patients to compare medicines. This comparison includes the physical as well as financial costs.

Recently, the nation’s leading oncology society unveiled a new way for doctors and patients to evaluate different treatments. This is a method that that pointedly includes a medicine’s cost as well as its effectiveness and side effects.

“The release by the American Society of Clinical Oncology of what it calls its ‘value framework’ is part of a change in thinking among doctors, who once largely chose drugs based on their medical attributes alone. The major cardiology societies for instance, are also now starting to factor cost into their evaluation of drugs,” according to The Times.

The report said the price of new cancer drugs now averaged about $10,000 a month, and some cost $30,000 a month, this can mean prohibitive co-payments even for some patients with good insurance. Many cancer patients are having severe financial problems, even bankruptcy in a number of cases.

The report’s value framework envisions considering two costs: the out-of-pocket costs for the patient and the overall cost of a medicinal drug to the health system.

The Times explains, “Evaluating the latter cost would put doctors in the role of being stewards of societal resources. That is somewhat of a controversial role for doctors, since it might conflict with their duty to the patient in front of them. But the oncology society said it did not see those roles as being in conflict.”

Many of the sample valuations presented by the cancer society were a far cry from flattering for the drugs involved in the research.

Eli Lilly’s Alimta for that same use of Avastin for chemotherapy (which costs almost $12,000 per month, but this did benefit patients) had a net heath advantage of zero with a cost exceeding $9,000 a month compared to about $800 a month for the drugs it was compared to in the clinical trial.

A representative for Lilly said the trial scrutinized by the oncology society understated Alimta’s effectiveness because it covered a broad population, whereas Alimta is approved for only one type of lung cancer.

Avastin was actually the first drug to help lung cancer patients live longer than a year, and that the choice of treatments for life-threatening diseases was complex and personal.

The report was published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The outline for the report is more a proposed methodology that will now be open for public comment. Experts are saying it will take time to input the data on the effectiveness, side effects and costs of each drug, and convert it to a system that can be utilized on computers and cell phones.

Dr. Lee N. Newcomer, senior vice president for oncology at UnitedHealthcare, the big insurance company, and a member of the task force that developed the framework, said, “It allows the patient and the doctor to at least talk through the issues. Before, the information wasn’t there.”

Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
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