Why does cancer treatment cost so much

Cancer treatment : 160,000 euros per year of life

Cancer: The confrontation with this diagnosis is usually harrowing. Even if it is by no means rare today. Cancer is now often detected earlier and more reliably, and more people are diagnosed with it because tumor diseases increase with age. And there are more people among us who have had or have cancer - because cancer is curable or becomes a chronic disease.

Nevertheless, the very different diseases that are summarized under this collective term remain a threat to life and limb. Will they also pose a threat to our healthcare system because of the costs they cause?

It is true that for some time now, on average, cancer patients have been in hospital less frequently and for a shorter period of time, but their treatment has shifted significantly to the outpatient area. On the other hand, the cost of cancer drugs is rising rapidly. This is due in large part to ingenious new developments with which tumors are prevented from growing by cutting off their blood supply, specifically turning off growth factors or blocking docking points for hormones without which they cannot proliferate.

On the cost side, these expensive new developments have an impact especially when they are prescribed against common tumor diseases. For example, the breast cancer drug Herceptin (active ingredient: trastuzumab) was prescribed twice as often in 2006 than in the previous year, after a study found that it was beneficial to all patients whose cancer cells had the Her-2-neu protein on the surface - not only those whose tumor has already formed daughter tumors.

For some diseases, the treatment costs have increased a hundredfold in recent years. Unfortunately, if the tumor has already formed colonies, months are often gained at most. With Herceptin about four to eight months. And you can open very nasty bills: For every year of life gained, there are treatment costs of 60,000 to 160,000 euros.

But can and may one calculate in this way? That was one of the questions that were asked at a symposium in the Vivantes Clinic in Neukölln. The occasion was the farewell to oncology chief physician Anton C. Mayr, who in the course of his many years of activity has seen the introduction of many hopeful and expensive new drugs into cancer medicine. As a doctor, he does not see his role in only looking at the economic problems of this development, Mayr told the Tagesspiegel. "But if we don't use these new resources sensibly and carefully, it will become an intolerable burden on our healthcare system."

"Anyone who has a malignant disease has special expectations of the therapy: only the latest is good enough," said Joachim Bovelet, managing director of the Vivantes clinic group. But what progress is so noticeable for patients that they have to be paid for at the expense of the insured community?

Cancer specialist Andreas Grüneisen (Vivantes-Klinikum Neukölln) warned doctors not to let the manufacturers suggest the answers. "New substances are aggressively marketed even before their benefit has been clearly proven, preliminary improvements are presented as clear medical advances in glossy brochures." Grüneisen also sees the role of self-help groups as problematic, many of which are financially supported by companies today. “They increase the pressure on us considerably.” On the other hand, doctors are forced to cut costs. "Today we have to conduct grueling negotiations because of treatments that have not yet been approved, but which could help individual patients."

The doctor Torsten Strohmeyer, Head of Research and Medicine at the pharmaceutical company GSK, reported on the concerns of the companies. "From 5000 to 10,000 substances that we test, one gets approval today."

The price spiral will continue to turn. A preparation with the active ingredient lapatinib will soon be available on the market. A molecule that works similar to Herceptin in breast cancer but can be taken as a tablet. A new challenge for cancer medicine.

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