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Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

The Unsustainable Economics of Cancer Drugs

In New York magazine, Steve Hall lays out the good, bad, and the ugly of cancer-drug economics. Warning: it is mostly bad and ugly.

The pharmacist e-mailed the numbers, and Saltz stared at the figures on his computer screen. Zaltrap, the drug that was extremely similar to Avastin, cost roughly $11,000 a month. (And because that extra 42 days wouldn’t be possible without taking the drug for, say, seven months before—which was roughly what was happening in clinical trials—the price for that six-week life extension could be as high as $75,000.)

“Wow,” he said to himself, “that’s a deal-changer for me.”

That may not seem like a heretical statement, but the unspoken rule in American health care is that doctors should never consider the cost of a medicine that might be beneficial to patients. When the FDA approves a new cancer drug, it analyzes safety and effectiveness only. Medicare is obliged to reimburse payment for the drug, and private insurers in most states must cover the cost. Any doctor who considers cost—or the value of a costly drug—risks being accused of “rationing” health care.

Has the Pill Led to an Increase in Prostate Cancer?

That is the possibility raised in a new paper published in BMJ Open and summarized in Science Daily. The presumptive culprit would be environmental estrogen exposure. Add this to the bulging files of Unintended Consequences of Birth Technology (the theme of a recent podcast called “Misadventures in Baby-Making.”) First, from the paper:

Prostate cancer (PCa) is the most common male malignancy in the Western world, and risk factors associated with this cancer remain ill defined.1 The only acknowledged risk factors thus far are: age, ethnicity and family history.1 Several studies have suggested that oestrogen exposure may increase the risk of prostate cancer,2–4 while other studies have not found an association.5 6

The Silver Lining of More Cancer Deaths

A National Post graphic does a good job showing causes of death across Canada by percentage, and notes that, for the first time, cancer is the leading cause in every province, responsible for about 30 percent of all deaths. That is a heartbreaking number, not least because cancer is a disease (or set of diseases, really) about which so much is still unknown.

As we wrote in a section of SuperFreakonomics called “We’re still getting our butts kicked by cancer,” seeing cancer statistics like this might naturally lead one to conclude that the “war on cancer” has been a dismal failure. That, however, would be an overstatement. While it’s true that we are, as one oncologist told us, “still getting our butts kicked,” there is somewhat of a silver lining in the cancer death rate.

Aspirin and Cancer: A Seriously Cost-Effective Measure

At Freakonomics, we’re all about finding cheap, easy solutions to life’s big problems. And judging by the results of a new study published in The Lancet, a rather large one just came down the pike. Turns out that aspirin may be one of the most effective measures to combat colon cancer. The study found that taking two aspirin pills a day for two years reduced the risk of colorectal cancer by 63 percent in a group of 861 people who have Lynch syndrome, and are therefore at a high risk for the disease.

Though there have been previous studies that suggest aspirin may effectively reduce the risk of cancer (like this one from 2010), according to the BBC, this most recent study was the first randomized control trial specifically for aspirin and cancer to prove it. So, while we’ve spent what probably amounts to tens of billions of dollars in pharmaceutical R&D trying to come up with an effective cancer drug, one of the best methods may have been already sitting in our medicine cabinet, at just a few bucks a bottle.

Dogs Can Smell Lung Cancer

A new study by German researchers apparently shows that “sniffer dogs” can reliably smell lung cancer on the breath of patients. The finding could significantly improve early detection methods of the disease, which is the deadliest form of cancer worldwide. The research was published in European Respiratory Journal. Here’s the abstract:

Patient prognosis in lung cancer (LC) largely depends on early diagnosis. Exhaled breath of patients may represent the ideal specimen for future LC screening. However, the clinical applicability of current diagnostic sensor technologies based on signal pattern analysis remains incalculable due to their inability to identify a clear target. To test the robustness of the presence of a so far unknown volatile organic compound in the breath of patients with LC, sniffer dogs were applied.
Exhalation samples of 220 volunteers (healthy individuals, confirmed LC, or COPD) were presented to sniffer dogs following a rigid scientific protocol. Patient history, drug administration and clinicopathological data were analysed to identify potential bias or confounders.
LC was identified with an overall sensitivity of 71% and a specificity of 93%. LC detection was independent from COPD and the presence of tobacco smoke and food odors. Logistic regression identified two drugs as potential confounders.

The FREAK-est Links

N.I.H. and the E.P.A. to collaborate on testing chemicals for toxic effects. (Earlier) The 10 most fuel-efficient luxury cars. (Earlier) A guide to optimizing caffeine consumption. “Plagiarius Award” developed for the best product knockoffs of the year.

The FREAK-est Links

Obesity linked to higher cancer risks. (Earlier) The Wii continues to dominate the industry. (Earlier) Is human sexuality an “evolutionary arms race”? How should corporations approach philanthropy? Becker and Posner speak. (Earlier)

The FREAK-est Links

The link between cannabis and cancer (Earlier) A scientific approach to tort reform What’s the optimal time of day for a psych test? (Earlier) Does junk food make prisoners more violent? (Earlier) (And earlier)

The FREAK-est Links

E.P.A. denies states’ requests to set their own emissions standards. (Earlier) Study indicates that insured cancer patients have better chance of survival. The one place where the Patriots lose: the point spread. Sellers offered extra incentives to buy in stagnating home market.

The FREAK-est Links

Why cancer vaccines don’t work. (Earlier) Professor predicts “exodus” to virtual worlds. (Earlier) Electric cars vs. gas-guzzlers: further analysis. (Earlier) Traveler chugs vodka to avoid surrendering bottle to airport security. (Earlier)

‘The Isaac Newton of Biology’

Talk about a nickname that is hard to live up to! Franziska Michor, who is a friend, former Harvard Society Fellow, and honorary economist, is featured in this year’s Esquire “Genius” edition under the headline “The Isaac Newton of Biology.” And she is only 25, and can also drive an eighteen-wheeler. Here is a link to her research on cancer.

The FREAK-est Links

Terminally ill professor to write a book based on his final lecture. (Earlier) Climate change scientists bet on disappearance of Arctic ice. (Earlier) Should NFL teams go for it on fourth down? A debate. (Earlier) Airports now offering flu shots to travelers. (Earlier)

The FREAK-est Links

Are men inherently better at math & science than women? (HT: Odd Numbers) Strange food tattoo fails to save owner’s restaurant. Working the night shift linked to cancer. (Earlier) New prediction market focuses on software products. (Earlier)

Devra Davis Responds to Your Cancer Questions

Last week, we ran a few excerpts from the new book The Secret History of the War on Cancer and and solicited your questions for its author, Devra Davis. I found her answers to be extraordinarily informative, and hope you do too. According to Davis, the economics of cancer prevention (not treatment) seem to be improving hard and fast, which . . .

Is There a ‘Secret History of the War on Cancer’? Ask for Yourself

Devra Davis knows a few things about cancer. The director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the former director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the National Academy of Sciences, she has spent her career researching, documenting, and advising about the disease. In the preface of her new book, . . .

The FREAK-est Links

Google creates digital fingerprinting to enforce copyrights. Is ambiguous racism more harmful than blatant racism? (HT: BPS Blog) U.S. cancer deaths on the decline. Are iPhones toxic to your health? (Earlier)

The FREAK-est Links

Terminal cancer patient Randy Pausch fulfills childhood dream of practicing with the Steelers. (Earlier) Music fans, angered by price gouging, sabotage scalpers’ auctions online. More primping before work could mean higher wages. The newest formula in boxing stats: the Tyson Index.

‘We All Run the Risk of Getting Hit By the Cancer Dart’

Randy Pausch, a prominent computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, yesterday gave his farewell lecture. He is 46 years old, and he is dying from pancreatic cancer. Read this remarkable article, by Mark Roth, about a remarkable man. I will give you a dollar if you make it to the end without crying. My condolences and best wishes to Pausch’s family . . .