A cancer diagnosis doubles your chances of going bankrupt
Cancer is on the rise, which is no surprise in our toxin-filled, high sugar, sit-on-your-duff culture. The National Academies Institute of Medicine says 1.6 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year. By 2030, they expect the numbers to rise to 2.3 million.
That means a lot of people will soon be grappling with the overwhelming effects of cancer. The illness takes a toll on every facet of your life – your health, obviously… your mental-emotional balance… your relationships… your time as you attempt to navigate treatment and pursue help…
But on top of all that, it’s a major money-drain.
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The lethal monopoly on cancer treatment
Even if you have insurance, there’s a good chance you’ll be saddled with through-the-roof costs if you choose conventional medical care.
Consider that the price of cancer drugs has doubled in the past decade. Nearly one in five cancer patients can’t even afford the medicines that will keep them alive. And 11 of the 12 cancer-fighting drugs approved by the FDA in 2012 topped out at over $100K a year, each, for a typical course of treatment.
That’s more than double the average family income.
Because of this, thousands of people across the country are facing a grim decision: Go bankrupt, or die? Too often, patients who can’t afford the drugs have no choice but to go without treatment.
Of course, Big Pharma is making a killing from this – pun intended. Right now the pharmaceutical industry is the second most profitable industry in the U.S., right behind oil and gas.
Sprycel is a perfect example. It’s a drug that gives hope to leukemia patients and allows them to live on while managing a lesser form of the disease. But Sprycel costs over $100,000 per year for the average patient. (Leukemia is a form of cancer where conventional medicine has actually had some success.)
Bristol-Myers Squibb is the maker of Sprycel. The cost of this drug has more than doubled in the last six years alone. Meanwhile, the top managers of Bristol-Myers Squibb are sitting fat and happy with tens of millions of dollars rolling into their bank or brokerage accounts.
It gets even worse. Drugs like Sprycel, which make the difference between life and death for some patients, cost twice as much in the U.S. as they do in Europe, China, Canada and the U.K. Those are all countries where the governments set limits on drug prices.
The cruelest part is, Sprycel and the others are game-changing drugs. They don’t just buy patients a few months. They turn their diagnosis into a low-grade disease patients can manage and live with for decades.
A medical crisis like none we’ve seen
It’s not just patients who are affected and angered by all this. Doctors and patient advocates are slowly beginning to rise up and voice their outrage.
More than a hundred cancer specialists, including Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, an oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, are involved in a public protest that demands pharmaceutical companies lower their prices. Big Pharma claims that drug research costs $1 billion on average. The figure is questionable, to say the least. Critics of Big Pharma say the true R&D budget is closer to $90 million.
According to a December 2013 report by Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Health and Medical Editor for ABC News, a cancer diagnosis doubles your chances of going bankrupt. That fact is emphasized now more than ever as new drugs are increasingly able to attack tumors while leaving healthy cells unharmed. That gives patients a higher chance of surviving longer with a high quality of life, as opposed to past drugs that simply prolonged a painful life for a few months.
In November 2013, a roundtable of experts gathered at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss the problem. Part of their conclusion was that cancer specialists are profoundly misleading patients. Something like seven or eight out of every ten patients believe undergoing extreme medical treatment will bring about a cure.
Yet the reality – at least if they’re just going for chemo, surgery and radiation – is that their lives will be extended only a short time, and with a very poor quality of life.
This is a point I repeat over and over again: With just a few exceptions (like leukemia), the survival rate for late-stage cancer is under two percent. The conventional treatments don’t work. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when someone complains to me that alternative treatments are risky. Compared to what?
The expert panel also concluded that the U.S. has the most highly trained oncologists in the world, but the entire system lacks coordination. That means patients get exposed to unnecessary and (too often) harmful treatments.
As we know all too well, these expensive treatments are simply done by the book and have next to nothing to do with treating patients and their cancers as individuals. A recent national survey proved this when it found clinicians asked for a patient’s preferences in medical decisions only about half the time.1 Worse, nearly one patient out of four reported that their clinicians failed to share important information about test results or medical history with other healthcare providers involved in their care.1
As I understand it, the treatment protocols for each type of cancer are spelled out down to the smallest detail and the physician has little discretion. And doesn’t want it. By following the strict protocol the oncologist is protected from malpractice suits.
And on top of all that? Scores of studies show a lack of evidence behind many of these drastic medical decisions, and especially so when treating older adults (age 65+).
Will only the rich survive?
Here’s what we know for sure: Over one-third of personal bankruptcies in the United States stem from medical problems. And three out of four people who declared bankruptcy for this reason actually had medical insurance. It just didn’t cover everything.
If you or someone you know is facing a similar cost-of-care crisis, here are a few things you can do while we wait for drastic change within the pharmaceutical industry:
The American Cancer Society and several other organizations offer various loans and grant programs for cancer patients. If you want to explore these services, start with the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition, which is a searchable database maintained by 14 organizations as a resource for cancer patients in financial need.
Why it’s more important than ever
to take healthcare into your own hands
One thing is clear: The incredible cost of contemporary cancer drugs means future drugs will only cost more. Skyrocketing cancer drug prices pose multiple problems, one of which is the total cost to society since so few people can pay for their own treatment. Insurance premiums are bound to go up.
The best answer is to do what we advocate in this newsletter and in the books we publish: Turn to alternatives. Even though you have to pay for them yourself, most of the time, the cost is likely to be far below what you’ll pay in non-covered costs if you choose chemo, radiation and surgery. And alternative treatments have the endearing quality of being more effective.
Best advice of all is to avoid getting cancer in the first place. Take preventive actions, like curbing sugar, exercising, eating organic whole foods, taking supplements and eliminating toxins in your environment.
I often experience sticker shock when I check out of a health food store or supplement store, but it’s nothing like the sticker shock of people who lose everything to the conventional cancer industry.
Lee Euler, Publisher