Wasted Cancer Hope

In a Post oped, a cancer doc admits to impotence:

My patients seek state-of-the-art therapy. … Almost all of them have insurance, … their access to care is virtually limitless. We employ the latest [everything] … Yet, despite the many recent advances in detection and treatment, of the 50 patients, 40 of them are likely to lose the fight. … When it comes to cancer care, we’re not getting what we pay for. … Few cancer clinical trials are designed to “cure” patients. They are commonly aimed at … an extension of average survival from 5 months to 6 months. ..

Globally, cancer care is a medical luxury. With some diseases such as colon cancer, the treatments alone cost more than $15,000 a month, yet on average add only a few months to survival. Most poor countries do not support any cancer care; most developed countries highly restrict it because of its cost and limited effectiveness. The United States is the only place on Earth with relatively unfettered access to cancer care, including the latest medicines, sophisticated scans and high-tech radiation, all of which are very expensive. But despite their more limited access, cancer patients in other high-income nations may live longer and with a higher quality of life than patients in this country. …

I frequently ask my students and peers if there is a cancer drug today that they would pay for out of pocket if they had to. … After a long pause, someone invariably will say “Gleevec,” … a true magic bullet. Very few cancer drugs can be described as having this kind of value.

Amazingly, he concludes:

Oncologists are optimists, and I am proud to be among them. I truly believe we can cure cancer. I care greatly for my patients and am doing everything in my power to improve and lengthen their lives. When I offer a clinical trial to a patient, I am hopeful that it will be better than the standard treatment. I am optimistic that health-care reform will not simply provide everyone with insurance that will cover the “standard of care” but will also force us to determine the true value of treatments.

This gives “optimism” a bad name.  He admits his profession wastes vast resources selling false hope, but we are supposed to let that slide because he is proud to be “hopeful”?

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