Oncologist says cost of cancer care should not take priority over saving lives

In the fight against cancer, lives matter more than cancer treatment costs, says Andrew Pecora, M.D., oncologist and chief innovation officer at the John Theurer Cancer Center in New Jersey, which is affiliated with the Hackensack University Medical Center.

While costs have been rising dramatically, there's a skewed perspective when it comes to some of the cost components, Pecora tells MedCity News. "There's no doubt about it--rising costs are an area of concern ... It has to be talked about, but it has to be put in context of the total cost of cancer care."

Not only is the cost of cancer drugs on the rise, but drugs to treat another life-threatening condition, hepatitis C, are also extraordinardily pricey. For example, Medicare Part D spent $4.5 billion last year on new drugs to fight the disease--more than 15 times what it spent on hepatitis C pharmaceuticals in 2013.

Such expenditures have brought heat on the pharmaceutical industry to cut its prices. And earlier this month, more than 100 doctors published a plea in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings that cancer drug manufacturers curb their prices, NBC News reported.

Pecora noted that the cost of drugs currently comprise about 40 percent of a patient's total cancer treatment bill. 

"I'm not justifying the cost of the drug, and I'm not defending the pharmaceutical industry," he told Medcity News. "My interest is that the proper argument is not being waged. You have to focus on the total cost of care--not just the drugs."

In many cases, the steep costs are worth it, particularly if they prolong life for an extended period of time. However, many insured patients often have six-figure bills for their care as a result.

For example, even though hepatitis C medications can cost close to $100,000 for a single patient, that is still the fraction of the cost of a liver transplant--one of the most expensive surgical procedures known to medicine. 

To learn more:
- read the MedCity News article 
- check out the NBC News article

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