Forty years after the National Cancer Act launched the "war on cancer," the battle is not just finding cures and better treatments, but also being able to afford them.
New drugs often cost $100,000 or more a year. Patients are being put on them sooner in the course of their illness and for a longer time - sometimes for the rest of there lives. The latest trend is to use these drugs in combination, guided by genetic tests that allow more personalized treatment, but also add to its expense.
It's not just drugs. Radiation treatment is becoming more high tech, and each leap in technology has brought a quantum leap in expense. The financial strain is showing. Some programs that help people pay their bills have seen a rise in requests, and medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy.
Dr. Michael Hasset, a cancer specialist and policy researcher at Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in Boston recently stated, "Patients have to pay more for their premiums, more for the co-payments, more for their deductibles. It's become harder to afford what we have, and what we have is becoming not only more costly but also complex."
Of the nation's 10 most expensive medical conditions, cancer has the highest per-person price. A recent American Cancer Society survey found that one-quarter of U.S. cancer patients put off getting a test or treatment because of cost.
Cancer patients out-of pocket expenses can average several thousands dollars a month for doctor visits, medicines, lost wages and travel to appointments. Recent surveys say that half of patients spent less on food and clothes, and 43 percent borrowed money or used credit. Also, 26 percent did not fill a prescription, 22 percent filled part of one and 20 percent took less than prescribed.
In addition, cost can still be a concern long after treatment. For example, many breast cancer patients take medicines for up to five years to prevent a recurrence of their cancer.
All cancer patients understand that insurance covers only part of their life saving treatments. It's up to the patients to pay for the rest. Patients move courageously through their treatment and want to make sure their doctors, hospitals, and treatment costs are paid in full. Not paying the people saving their lives strips patients of their dignity, and can drastically reduce the hope that is vital for full recovery.