Medicines Represent "A True Bargain"

Medicines Represent "A True Bargain"

03.18.11 | By

In recent years, the United States has seen significant progress in the fight against cancer. In 2008, the American Cancer Society reported for the first time a decline in the number of deaths from all cancers - in both men and women.

Medicines are a key factor contributing to the advances in cancer treatment. Since 1980, life expectancy for cancer patients has increased about three years - and 83% of those gains are attributable to new treatments, including medicines.

Just last week, Kate wrote about a recent CDC/National Cancer Institute finding that there were 11.7 million cancer survivors alive in the U.S. in 2007. As she observed: survivors, not victims.

And a recent editorial in the scientific journal Nature Medicine, by Columbia University researcher Frank Lichtenbeg, helps put the cost of new cancer medicines into context.

Lichtenberg found that, on average, new cancer medicines have increased the life expectancy of patients by almost one year. He also states that the benefit of new medicines could be even greater when quality of life is considered.

Lichtenberg estimates that one year - plus any additional quality of life benefits -costs around $6,500. Because surveys have shown that Americans would be willing to pay between $100,000 and $300,000 to extend their lives by one year, he concludes "$6,500 represents a true bargain."

Lichtenberg is not the first to suggest the value of new cancer drugs must be put into perspective. A 2010 white paper by Boston Healthcare Associates explained how evidence and information on the benefits of cancer medicines accumulate over time, often proving that the full value of a medicine is much greater than first known at the time of approval.

As we discuss the important issue of access to medicines for patients, it is important to remember the big picture - including the full value for society and the entire lifecycle of the drug. Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at the value medicines have for other chronic conditions and their ability to control future costs.

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