As cancer research advances more cancer treatments are being offered to patients. Unfortunately for hopeful cancer patients these treatments are far from affordable and some of them may not be as safe and effective as conventional radiation treatment.
Are New Cancer Treatments Worth the Cost?
Finding new therapies that are more effective than radiation or chemotherapy without the latter's side-effects have long been the goal for cancer researchers and doctors. As science and technology progresses so does alternative therapies that seem like the cure for cancer. Gene therapy, cryosurgery, cancer vaccines, and hyperthermia are just some of the newer types of treatments doctors have been looking into to treat cancer patients. But there's increasing concern that some of these treatments aren't worth the cost.
Researchers have looked into the use of certain prostate cancer treatments such as less invasive surgery and advanced radiation therapy and found that the more expensive treatments aren't better than conventional treatments. Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital compared the type and cost of prostate cancer treatments from 2002 to 2005 from 45,000 patients. Of those men who had surgery in 2002 to treat the cancer, one out of 100 opted to get minimally invasive surgery where the surgeon makes several small openings to get to the prostate instead of one long incision. The minimally invasive surgery costs a few hundred dollars more. The cost for "intensity modulated" radiation therapy, which is a newer type of radiation treatment that is more precise than standard radiation treatment, cost $11,000 more than radiation therapy.
According to the study more men opted for the more expensive new therapies without proof of their cost effectiveness. While intensity modulated radiation therapy was proven to reduce the rate of serious rectal bleeding, its cost-effectiveness wasn't published until 2006 when over 80% of the patients was using it.
"In an era of limited resources, it is important for us as a society to take stock of how we're spending our money," said Paul Nguyen, MD, lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center.
"We don't think these patterns are unique to prostate cancer, but used it as an example and found that in the United States, newer and more expensive technologies were rapidly adopted before we knew if they were worth the added cost, or in the case of robotic surgery, whether they provide benefits over standard treatment."
Another study is looking at a faster form of radiation therapy for breast cancer to find out if it is effective and safe as conventional radiation treatment. The study found women who underwent the faster treatment called brachytherapy, were twice as likely to undergo a mastectomy in the following five years as those who had received the conventional treatment.
Brachytherapy which uses a catheter to deliver radiation directly into the breast where the tumor is removed after a lumpectomy is faster because the radiation is concentrated where it's needed. Whole breast radiation requires six or seven weeks of treatment before it's completed. Researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center looked at the Medicare records of 130,535 patients who had early stage breast cancer from 2000 to 2007 and had a lumpectomy and radiation. About 4 percent of those patients who underwent brachytherapy also had to have a mastectomy, a sign that the cancer had come back. Brachytherapy also has other side effects. It is associated with a higher rate of infection as well as a higher rate of rib fractures, fat necrosis and breast pain. Brachytherapy also cost more than whole breast radiation treatment by $8000. The National Cancer Institute is sponsoring clinical trials to compare whole breast irradiation to partial breast irradiation including brachytherapy but the results aren't expected for several years.
It's easy to jump on new cancer treatments if you're suffering from cancer and desperate for better treatments and the chance to cure the disease but it doesn't take much to thoroughly research the treatments. Newer treatments are more expensive but that doesn't mean they're better.
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