New cancer therapies unaffordable to many

While many new cancer therapies can prolong life or have fewer toxic side effects than older drugs, many patients are unable to afford them, according to an article in the Fiscal Times.

According to the article, drug companies charge exorbitant fees for some of these new therapies, which include a drug for metastatic melanoma that doubled the one-year survival rate from 25 percent to 46 percent, which costs $120,000 for a four-month course of treatment, and targeted therapies for breast and other types of cancer that promise the same or better results as toxic chemotherapy, but with far fewer side effects, which can cost ten thousand dollars per month.

Some insurers will pay a portion of this, and some drug companies offer assistance, but these drugs are still out of reach for many.  A  study by the National Cancer Institute projected the cost of treating the 29 most common cancers in adults will rise 27 percent by 2020, even though incidence of the disease is going down.

The article notes that prices are set so high for these drugs because there are not that many cancer patients, and many don’t live very long, and the prices need to support the industry’s current size and structure.

(Kaiser Daily Health Policy Project,, January 23, 2012; The Fiscal Times,, January 23, 2012)