Cancer Care is About Innovative Therapies and Improving Outcomes; Cost is not the Only Factor

Cancer Care is About Innovative Therapies and Improving Outcomes; Cost is not the Only Factor

06.19.12 | By Greg Lopes

A Reuters article I read recently raises important issues about the cost of cancer care. But it missed an important theme: New treatments are changing and improving the way we treat cancer and while it's important to keep an eye on healthcare costs, we must see the bigger picture, which is the potential of new medicines.

Last week PhRMA President and CEO John Castellani participated in a conference that brought together patients, payers, physicians, innovator companies, researchers and others to discussion innovation in an era of cost constraint. A discussion paper which framed the conference reported on 34 interviews from thought leaders in the cancer space provided a much more complete view than I can possibly provide in this blog. I highly recommend checking it out.

As innovations in cancer care continue to accelerate, so does concern around the costs of treatment in relation to outcomes. When considering this concept, I think there are a few key points to keep in mind. First, the innovation is extremely important to positive outcomes and cost. Let's take personalized medicine, in which treatments are targeted based on an individual patient's genetics. This represents an entirely new way of treating cancer. By reducing the number of patients treated unnecessarily, the approach offers promise to both improve outcomes and contain costs.

Some experts believe that, through use of better treatments, we have the potential to transform the outlook of cancer treatment as we did with HIV/AIDS. In the 1980s and early 1990s, HIV was a certain death sentence, costing the health system enormous amounts in acute hospital care. With the introduction of HAART drugs, the situation changed completely. Today, HIV is a largely manageable condition with dramatically fewer hospitalizations.

We have made incredible progress in recent years. Cancer death rates - one of the most reliable measures of progress - have fallen 20% since 1991. And cancer experts agree, almost uniformly, that cancer research offers unprecedented potential for even greater gains.

It is also important to view our current situation in the context of U.S. health care spending as a whole; cancer accounts for just a small share of total expenditures. For example, in 2009, total U.S. national health care spending was $2.5 trillion and cancer treatment accounted for less than 4 percent of that total. This is not to say that growing costs are unimportant but that we should keep them in perspective.

Continuing to advance cancer care, while also containing costs, is not an easy challenge to overcome. It will surely require collaboration from all across the cancer community and biopharmaceutical companies are eager to be a part of that discussion.

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