As the debate over health care coverage dominates the news, we are continually reminded of the soaring cost of that coverage, particularly for prescription drugs. The attention to this issue over the past few years has helped to stabilize prices, for some diseases. For cancer patients, this has not been the case; in fact, we see the opposite happening. With the annual rate of new cancer diagnoses (one of every two men and one of every three women) the number of new cancer drugs has increased by 60 percent over the past 10 years. And there are more than 600 new cancer treatments in the pipeline.
If you or your loved one is in cancer treatment today, then you are acutely aware of how expensive that treatment can be. It’s not uncommon to hear of drugs costing more than $10,000 each month. On May 1, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Imfinzi, a drug from Astra Zeneca used to treat bladder cancer; its price tag–$180,000 for one year’s worth of treatment. Cancer patients are responsible for a significant portion of the costs of these drugs, which are added to co-pays, deductibles, or the Medicare “donut hole.”
This level of financial burden contributes to a crushing new condition inflicted on cancer patients— “financial toxicity.” Financial toxicity refers to the financial impact of a person’s cancer, treatment, and the long-term effects of that treatment on an individual’s personal financial health and wellbeing. The consequences of financial toxicity include non-adherence to treatment regimens, growing financial debt, bankruptcy, and any number of personal and family stresses.
Minimizing the financial impact of cancer treatment has become an important health concern, and researchers, leading cancer organizations and lawmakers are seeking innovative ways to address it. One proposal is to base the cost of cancer drugs in part on the benefit to patients. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has developed “evidence blocks” that focus on affordability, efficacy, safety, and the type of evidence supporting the use of the proposed treatment. In this approach, providers and their patients can have meaningful discussions about treatment options and their related costs, before treatment begins.
Figuring out treatment options is overwhelming, and the added financial consequences reinforce the need for you and your loved one to have support to make the best decisions. The Managing Cancer at Work nurse navigator is an excellent resource to help you explore available treatment options. For example, did you know that many pharmaceutical companies offer assistance that can reduce costs significantly? Don’t hesitate to contact your nurse navigator if you have questions or concerns about your or your loved one’s cancer, treatment, or the financial impact of your treatment.
Reference National Cancer Institute (2017). Financial toxicity and cancer treatment (PDQ®) – health professional version.
Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/managing-care/financial-toxicity-hp-pdq
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2017). NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology with NCCN Evidence Blocks™.
Retrieved from: https://www.nccn.org/evidenceblocks/default.aspx
The Economist (2017). Hard to swallow Cancer drugs are getting better and dearer.