Procrit, better known as EPO, a substance Lance Armstrong injected to pedal faster and longer, has been discovered to be more harmful than beneficial.

Doctors currently use Procrit sparingly as a treatment for the side effect of chemotherapy.

In 1989 the drug was approved for anemia and became a popular treatment. Regulators later learned that Procrit can speed tumor growth and hasten death in cancer patients. Today the use of this class of drug is restricted.

Federal data depicts that Medicare paid U.S. oncologists $128 million in 2012 to administer Procrit. 1/6th of that money went to oncologists in a cancer treatment group in Florida. 11 off the 20 oncologists paid the most, for Procrit by Medicare, belonged to the Florida group.

A wall Street Journal analysis of 2012 Medicare billing data discovered that this medical group also used Procrit at higher rates than is typical. 104 of the doctors on average treated 11% of patients with Procrit at least once, versus an average 6.2% among other oncologists.

Other oncologists have stopped using the drug since 2007, when the FDA began warning about the risks of the drug. The FDA later established that Procrit or other drugs like it should not be used on some chemotherapy patients. The FDA also required doctors to warn patients of the risks associated with Procrit.

In 2007 Medicare also announced restricted on reimbursements for the drug when used on some cancer patients.

After legal effort by the Wall Street Journal, the Medicare data associated with Procrit and other drugs like it was released. The data showed that a minority of doctors account for an outsize portion of Medicare costs. Despite regulators attempted to limit the anemia drugs use in cancer patients, some oncologists continue to heavily bill Medicare.

The American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer believes that the data implies that there is some excessive use. He claims that there is clear evidence that the drug stimulates tumor growth and is only an appropriate medication for a very narrow percentage of cancer patients.

Gerry Oginski
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