Category Archives: Cancer

Cancer meds can have high out-of-pocket costs for patients, report


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Julie Appleby

Cancer patients shopping on federal and state insurance marketplaces often find it difficult to determine whether their drugs are covered and how much they will pay for them, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society says in a report that also calls on regulators to restrict how much insurers can charge patients for medications.

While the report found fairly broad coverage for prescription cancer medications, most insurance plans in the six states that were examined placed all or nearly all of the 22 medications studied into payment “tiers” that require the biggest out-of-pocket costs by patients, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said. Continue reading


Medicare spending for hepatitis C cures surges


Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Charles Ornstein ProPublica
This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

Medicare’s prescription drug program spent nearly $4.6 billion in the first half of this year on expensive new cures for the liver disease hepatitis C 2014 almost as much as it spent for all of 2014.

Medicare’s drug program spent an eye-popping $4.8 billion for hepatitis C drugs in 2014.

Rebates from pharmaceutical companies 2014 the amounts of which are confidential 2014 will reduce Medicare’s final tab for the drugs, by up to half. Even so, the program’s spending will likely continue to rise, in part because of strong demand.

Medicare’s stunning outlays, spelled out in data requested from the government by ProPublica, raise troubling questions about how the taxpayer-funded program can afford not only these pricey medications, but a slew of others coming on the market. Continue reading


Should the smoking age be 21? Some legislators say yes


Cigarette thumbBy Jenni Bergal

Nearly a dozen states have considered bills this year to boost the legal age for buying tobacco products.

While a growing number of states have turned their attention to marijuana legalization, another proposal has been quietly catching fire among some legislators—raising the legal age to buy cigarettes.

Measures to raise the smoking age to 21 were introduced this year in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, the District of Columbia and here in Washington state.

This summer, Hawaii became the first state to approve increasing the smoking age from 18 to 21 starting Jan 1. A similar measure passed the California Senate, but stalled in the Assembly. And nearly a dozen other states have considered bills this year to boost the legal age for buying tobacco products.

“It really is about good public health,” said Democratic Hawaii state Sen. Rosalyn Baker, who sponsored the legislation. “If you can keep individuals from beginning to smoke until they’re at least 21, then you have a much greater chance of them never becoming lifelong smokers.”

Supporters say hiking the legal age to 21 not only will save lives but will cut medical costs for states. But opponents say it would hurt small businesses, reduce tax revenue and violate the personal freedom of young adults who are legally able to vote and join the military. Continue reading


Buyer Beware: a mammogram’s price can vary by nearly $1,000, study finds


Doctor views mammograms

By Jordan Rau

Thinking about getting a mammogram in the Dallas-Fort Worth area? You might check carefully because the cost can vary from $50 to as much as $1,045.

How about an initial routine gynecological exam? Around Phoenix, those prices can range from $72 to $388.

According to an analysis released Wednesday, it can pay to shop around for women’s health care, with mammograms and other routine services often costing far more in one office than in another. Continue reading


Pre-hab: Rehabilitation before cancer treatment


prehab-570By Michelle Andrews

Cancer patients who do rehabilitation before they begin treatment may recover more quickly from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, some cancer specialists say.

But insurance coverage for cancer “prehabilitation,” as it’s called, can be spotty, especially if the aim is to prevent problems rather than treat existing ones.

It seems intuitive that people’s health during and after invasive surgery or a toxic course of chemo or radiation can be improved by being as physically and psychologically fit as possible going into it. But research to examine the impact of prehab is in the beginning stages.

Early research suggests prehab may improve people’s ability to tolerate cancer treatment and return to normal physical functioning more quickly. 

Prehabilitation is commonly associated with orthopedic operations such as knee and hip replacements or cardiac procedures.

Now there’s growing interest in using prehab in cancer care as well to prepare for treatment and minimize some of the long-term physical impairments that often result from treatment, such as heart and balance problems.

“It’s really the philosophy of rehab, rebranded,” says Dr. Samman Shahpar, a physiatrist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Continue reading


Skin cancer: 9 things to know to lower your risk


Blue sky and white clouds (Panorama)

The how-to’s of skin cancer prevention haven’t changed much in recent years — avoid too much ultraviolet light via sun or tanning beds and take care not to burn or tan — but that message is clearly not reaching enough people, according to Fred Hutch researchers.


With climbing rates of skin cancer in the U.S., including the deadly form, melanoma, it’s time to get serious about prevention, experts say.

The how-to’s haven’t changed much in recent years — avoid too much ultraviolet light via sun or tanning beds and take care not to burn or tan — but that message is clearly not reaching enough people, said Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center cancer prevention researcher Dr. Margaret Madeleine.

A recent study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 5 million U.S. adults are treated every year for all types of skin cancer to the tune of $8.1 billion. Melanoma rates have doubled in this country since 1982, according to a CDC report earlier this month. The majority of these cancer cases are preventable.

Last summer, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a call to action to prevent this too-common disease: Non-melanoma skin cancers, chiefly basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the most common cancers in this country by far, afflicting an estimated 4.3 million people per year.

That report, the first time the surgeon general had come out against sunbathing and tanning beds, is a great step, Madeleine said. But we need to do more.

“The message needs to be louder,” Madeleine said. “There are some really serious public health tactics that could be used.”

For example, tanning beds don’t carry as high a tax rate as cigarettes do, Madeleine said. We could also be teaching kids about skin cancer prevention in schools and doing more to combat the pervasive idea among teenagers and young adults that indoor tanning is harmless.

Nine things to know to reduce your skin cancer risk right now

Continue reading


Cancer quackery fuels concern among doctors, FDA


Photo Credit:  Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Be wary of possible side effects, drug interactions when using alternative health supplements, physicians caution

By By Bill Briggs
Fred Hutch News Service

One potentially fake cancer drug sold online can actually cause malignancies. One enema machine, purported to treat ovarian cancer under the FDA banner, was never cleared for sale in the U.S., federal health officials assert.

Those products and more were targeted last week in a global crackdown on more than 1,000 websites that sell possibly dangerous and bogus medicines and medical devices. The bust, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Interpol, coincides with the surge of unproven cancer “cures” hawked by Internet sellers, the FDA warns.

For curious consumers, the FDA posts a running list of “fake cancer cures” that currently spans 187 oils, drinks, plants and animals parts sold by web merchants from North Carolina to Oregon.

Cancer-treatment fraud is “particularly heartless,” FDA officials say, because it preys on the desperation of patients who are tempted “to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.” At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, some doctors are equally leery when patients ask to add claimed “natural” remedies to their treatment regimens.

“We’re quite clear: No over-the-counter herbal treatments – the things people get that are supposed to help their immune system, [or] whatever scams that people come across,” said Dr. George Georges, a hematopoietic cell transplant doctor at Fred Hutch. Continue reading