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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

New Vaccine Again Proves Cancer is Costly, not Curable

Published April 29, 2010 4:46 PM by Joe Darrah
The FDA has granted its first approval to a vaccine to treat cancer. Should you be excited? Sure, if you've got a bank account that rivals that of Daddy Warbucks.  

Intended to treat prostate cancer that has spread and not responded to hormone therapy, Provenge won't prevent or cure the cancer, but it is expected to cost close to $70,000-$100,000, with potential sales of $1.5 billion per year, according to estimates by J.P Morgan.

Officials at Dendreon, the vaccine's Seattle-based manufacturer, have not disclosed how much the vaccine will cost, but spokeswoman Katherine Stueland has said the company expects Provenge to cost as much as other "high-tech cancer drugs."

I hate to sound disturbed, but can't help thinking this "breakthrough" could literally cost people to put a price on their own lives depending on what their insurance covers or, probably more appropriately, doesn't cover to the more than 192,000 men who are diagnosed each year with the disease, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Administered in a series of three shots, the therapy is designed to train the patient's immune system to recognize and kill malignant cells. Studies have reportedly shown the vaccine has helped men with advanced prostate cancer live longer than men given placebo shots through a 3-year drug trial, according to a published report by USA Today.

According to the report, 32 percent of men given Provenge lived 3 years, compared to 23 percent of those given a placebo shot. Many people did develop mild symptoms such as fevers, chills and headaches that could be treated with over-the-counter medications; however, one in four Provenge users experienced a serious side effect and 3.5 percent suffered a stroke compared to 2.6 percent of the placebo population, according to the FDA.

"It's really a very exciting point in time," USA Today quotes Philip Kantoff, MD, of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which led a study of 512 males. "It's significant for prostate cancer patients. And it's exciting from the global standpoint of opening up a whole new area of research that people have been working on for many years."

But are those lining their pockets truly the most excited right now? Research shows that many health plans are raising out-of-pocket costs to help cover expenses. According to a study by the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, the monthly cost of brand-name cancer drugs has increased by nearly 18 percent since 2008 ... to $2,942.

As nurses, you know patients skip treatments for prescription drugs that are far less expensive. The aforementioned study also found that 29 percent of cancer patients with $500 or more per year in out-of-pocket costs stopped filling their prescriptions.

Yet, Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the ACS said researchers are already working on another vaccine for prostate cancer, as well as for breast cancer and melanoma.

Should we start saving now?

2 comments

Yes, great point, Kathleen. Thanks for your comments!

Help does exist, and people do a lot of harm to themselves. That is certainly an issue.

You can only educate so much before it's up to people to take care of themselves because they want to.

But for those who do otherwise take care of themselves and get sick, this is very sad.

Joe Darrah, Editor - Senior Associate, ADVANCE April 30, 2010 12:13 PM
King of Prussia PA

There are a lot of programs to assist cancer patients with cost of drugs. Unfortunately, cancer drugs are blockbusters when it comes to sales. Prevention...we need to stop poisoning ourselves and stop allowing it from our food sources and environment.

Kathleen, RN April 29, 2010 9:36 PM
Charlotte NC

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