ASCO Report Finds U.S. Cancer Care System Ill-Equipped to Deliver New Advances to Patients

“As the nation embarks on an ambitious ‘moonshot’ to accelerate progress against cancer, our system for delivering today’s cancer treatments must be better prepared to bring advances to all patients, warns a new report from ASCO.

The State of Cancer Care in America: 2016, published March 15 in the Journal of Oncology Practice and presented at a Congressional briefing in Washington, DC, is ASCO’s third annual assessment of national trends in cancer care delivery. The report highlights many promising cancer care developments, including new drugs and technologies, declining mortality rates, expanded access to healthcare generally, and a shift towards value-based care. But ASCO also highlights major challenges for patients and physicians, including uneven health insurance coverage, rapidly rising costs, and other barriers to accessing new treatments.”


Super Advocate: Laura Gheorghiu Seeks Better Care for Her Mom—and for Cancer Patients Across Canada


Laura Gheorghiu’s mother didn’t usually go to the doctor for just a cold. After she moved to Québec four years ago, it took a long time to get a family doctor through the public healthcare system and, until then, seeing one meant sitting for hours in a walk-in clinic. But she did seek care for a cold late last fall. For one thing, she finally had a doctor. For another, she had a really bad cold. Continue reading…


Super Patient: John Wagontall Gets a Third Opinion and Survives Prostate Cancer


Update:  We are deeply saddened to report that John passed away on December 18, 2016. It is a privilege to continue to share his story and keep his memory alive.

In the summer of 2004, John Wagontall looked like the picture of health. The 46-year-old Canadian had been a firefighter for 20 years, was an avid cyclist, and also worked out alongside his wife as she trained for a bodybuilding competition. The only sign that something was wrong was a bit of blood in his urine.

His doctor told John he had a bladder infection, prescribed antibiotics, and sent him home. And all appeared to be well until a few months later, when his urine was bloody again. This time, his doctor sent him to a urologist to learn the underlying cause of his recurring bladder infection. Continue reading…


An 'Utterly Broken' Drug Market: The High Cost of Surviving Cancer

“Lauren Baumann is one of the lucky ones.

“Though she has cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia, it is manageable, as long as she takes a daily pill called Gleevec. Gleevec is considered a wonder drug, turning Lauren’s leukemia from a death sentence to a disease she and thousands of others can live with. The problem is, even with health insurance and a full-time job, Lauren can’t afford the monthly co-pay for Gleevec. It can be as high as $2,000 a month — twice the average mortgage payment in the U.S.

” ‘I feel like you get punished,’ says Baumann. ‘I didn’t ask to get cancer; I didn’t ask to get sick. I was 26 and I was perfectly healthy.’ “


Cancer Is Getting More Expensive, Forcing Doctors to Take Notice

“Gale Tickner doesn’t even know how much money she owes these days — it could be $100,000, it could be $200,000. With every surgery or unexpected complication, the medical bills for her cancer treatment keep piling up.

“Tickner has health insurance, but the numerous copayments for her hospital visits, procedures and drugs over the past year and a half have made her treatment a financial burden.

“ ‘We’re just going to take it a day at a time to pay what we can, when we can,’ she said.

“The rising cost of care is a source of growing alarm — and not just for patients. It will be a subject of debate at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago this weekend, where doctors are examining new ways to package cancer treatment to make it more affordable.”


ASCO: Many Cancer Patients Interested in Genetic Profiling

“Many patients with cancer are interested in comprehensive tumor genetic profiling (CGP), and most are willing to pay out-of-pocket costs for CGP, according to a study scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, to be held from May 29 to June 2 in Chicago.

“Julie Innocent, M.D., from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and colleagues recruited 88 patients of diverse cancer histology to complete a survey in order to explore patient interest and willingness to pay out of pocket for CGP. The researchers specifically examined interest in CGP only if covered by insurance versus interest conditional on paying an out-of-pocket cost.”


Uninsured Patients Pay Unreasonably High Prices for Cancer Treatments

“Uninsured cancer patients are paying anywhere from 2 to 43 times what Medicare would pay for chemotherapy drugs, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These findings were published by Dusetzina et al in Health Affairs.

“Researchers led by Stacie Dusetzina, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, reviewed newly available Medicare data on what physicians charged for chemotherapy drugs delivered intravenously in 2012.

“Uninsured patients who did not negotiate the billed amounts could expect to pay $6,711 for an infusion of the colorectal cancer drug oxaliplatin. However, Medicare and private health plans only pay $3,090 and $3,616 for the same drug, respectively.”


Aetna, Cigna Balk as Angelina Effect Spurs Genetic Cancer Testing

“Medical researchers call it the ‘Angelina Effect,’ the surge in demand for genetic testing attributable to movie star Angelina Jolie’s public crusade for more aggressive detection of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

“But there’s a catch: Major insurance companies including Aetna, Anthem and Cigna are declining to pay for the latest generation of tests, known as multi-gene panel tests, Reuters has learned. The insurers say that the tests are unproven and may lead patients to seek out medical care they don’t need.

“That’s a dangerous miscalculation, a range of doctors, genetic counselors, academics and diagnostics companies said. While they acknowledge that multi-gene tests produce data that may not be useful from a diagnostic standpoint, they say that by refusing or delaying coverage, insurance companies are endangering patients who could be undergoing screenings or changing their diets if they knew about the possible risks.

“The tests have come a long way since Jolie, 39, went public in 2013, revealing that she underwent a double mastectomy after a genetic test found she carried mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, indicating a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She disclosed last month that she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.”


Race, Hospital, Insurance Status Affect Lung Cancer Treatment

“African Americans, Hispanics and those who receive care at a community hospital are all significantly less likely than other patients to receive treatment for early stage non-small cell lung cancer, according to a report in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology.

“ ‘We found significant disparities for treatment of a curable cancer based on race, insurance status and whether or not treatment was at an academic or community hospital,’ said Dr. Matthew Koshy, a physician in the department of radiation oncology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, and lead author of the study. ‘Reducing these disparities could lead to significant improvements in survival for many people with inoperable early stage lung cancer.’

“The study is the largest to date looking at treatment received by patients with stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer, an early stage of lung cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes and is characterized by a small nodules in the lung tissue. Treatment during this early stage offers the best chance for long-term survival.

“Surgery to remove cancerous nodules in the lungs is the standard treatment for patients with stage 1 NSCLC. But many patients cannot undergo surgery, due to complicating medical conditions such as poor lung function or heart disease.

“For those patients, radiation therapy has been the standard treatment, but outcomes are much poorer than for surgical treatment. Many patients deemed inoperable are only monitored, because the benefits of conventional radiation are regarded as minimal.”