A new report to the United Nations General Assembly by the World Health Organization (WHO) calls cancer the costliest disease. Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Association calls cancer an economic killer. The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel which regulates approval of drug use has now decided to drop plans to allow Avastin to be used to treat breast cancer.
Avastin was originally developed to combat colon cancer, but the drug has shown to be effective in the fight against breast cancer. In 2008, after clinical tests, the FDA approved the use of Avastin for battling breast cancer. However, two new studies plus the $8,000 per month price tag has caused the FDA to reconsider it’s earlier decision.
Initial tests had shown that Avastin had reduced blood flow to tumors. The FDA approved the drug’s use for breast cancer based on the tests that showed it may extend the time for the cancer to worsen by as much as five months. But the two latest studies show that Avastin may only slow the growth of a tumor for one month.
The FDA’s reversal on Avastin opens the door that other drugs may also lose their previous recommendations. David Vitter (R-LA), a critic of the Obama health care law, said “I shudder at the thought of a government panel assigning a value to a day of a person’s life. It is sickening to think that care would be withheld from a patient simply because their life is not deemed valuable enough.”
The Avastin case is merely one story in the overall fight against cancer. According to the WHO report, the economic price tag of cancer was $895 Billion dollars in 2008. Equal to 1.5% of the world’s total GDP. Cancer costs more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and the flu. Along with heart disease and diabetes, such chronic diseases like cancer cause 60% of all deaths worldwide.
Infectious diseases like AIDS and influenza have seen a marked increase in funding globally the past ten years. But many believe more attention needs to be spent on non-infectious, chronic disease. With the costs of care, and drugs ever rising, and funding becoming scarcer, hard choices must be made.
Lung and related cancers cost $180 Billion alone, with all cancers costing $895 Billion. Heart disease comes in second at $753 Billion globally. While progress has been made in fighting infectious disease, the mortality rates of non-infectious disease steadily climbs.
The WHO report to the United Nations General Assembly indicates the growing concerns that governments face on the cost of health care. With cancer now being recognized as such an expensive disease according to Dr. Otis Brawley, will the FDA’s decision on Avastin be just the first of many drugs and treatments restricted and limited? Is this the beginning of the Obama health care death panels?