Patient-Borne Costs of Cancer Care Top More Than $21 Billion

The total economic burden borne by cancer patients in the U.S. during 2019 totaled $21.09 billion: $16.22 billion in patient out-of-pocket expenses and $4.87 billion in patient time costs. The latter figure represents the value of time patients spent traveling to and from health care, waiting for care and receiving care. The numbers were reported in Part 2 of the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which appeared Oct. 26 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The billions in cost account for only the money and lost time borne by patients, not overall costs of cancer care and lost productivity, which carry a much larger price tag. Out-of-pocket costs were highest for cancers that are more prevalent: breast ($3.14 billion), prostate ($2.26 billion), colorectal ($1.46 billion) and lung ($1.35 billion). Other factors affecting cost included treatment intensity and duration, and patient survival. “As exciting and promising as cancer research is, we are keenly aware of the issue of financial toxicity for these patients,” Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, said in a media release. “Therapies that are highly effective are no doubt good news, but if they are unaffordable, it is not the total kind of progress we would like to see.”

FDA Bolsters Safety Requirements for Breast Implants

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new requirements Oct. 27 that will force manufacturers and plastic surgeons to warn patients of possible complications of receiving breast implants. The new mandates follow complaints from patients and activists of “breast implant illness” characterized by symptoms including fatigue, mental confusion and other issues. The new rules will require providers and facilities offering implants to present patients with a checklist of risks associated with the procedure, and providers must review the checklist with their patients. Warning labels will also accompany some implants, and patients will be advised that implants do not last a lifetime. Rather, the patients should have periodic screenings to detect ruptures. “This is information that every patient contemplating breast implants should know,” said Binita Ashar, director of the Office of Surgical and Infection Control Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a Washington Post article. “We want patients to make informed decisions about whether or not breast implants are right for them.” (To read about women who opt out of breast reconstruction, see “Going Flat” in Cancer Today.)

New Treatment for Oral Cancer Is Faster and Less Invasive

A new treatment for oropharyngeal cancer that is less invasive and can be administered over a shorter duration is highly effective in treating certain patients with HPV-related oral cancer, according to study results presented Oct. 20 at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s Annual Meeting. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, used minimally invasive surgery and half the standard radiation. They also reduced treatment time to two weeks from the standard six weeks. Current treatments for oral cancer are highly effective, but can lead to long-term toxicities, including dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, jawbone problems and neck stiffness. “Many of these side effects are directly linked to the amount of radiation used for treatment,” said Daniel J. Ma, a radiation oncologist at Mayo Clinic and the study’s author, in a  media release.  “Our findings suggest that in select patients with HPV-associated oropharynx cancer, a shorter course of treatment, compared to the standard of care, yields a similar result.”