NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Review of Prostate Cancer Drug Provenge Renews Medical Cost-Benefit Debate

November 10, 2010

Federal officials are conducting an unusual review to determine whether the government should pay for an expensive new vaccine for treating prostate cancer, rekindling debate over whether some therapies are too costly, says the Washington Post.

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is running a "national coverage analysis" of Provenge, the first vaccine approved for treating any cancer.
  • The treatment costs $93,000 a patient and has been shown to extend patients' lives by about four months.

Although Medicare is not supposed to take cost into consideration when making such rulings, the decision to launch a formal examination has raised concerns among cancer experts, drug companies, lawmakers, prostate cancer patients and advocacy groups.

"If the cost wasn't a consideration, this wouldn't even be under discussion," says Skip Lockwood, who heads Zero - the Project to End Prostate Cancer, a Washington-based lobbying group.

  • Prostate cancer strikes 192,000 men in the United States each year and kills about 27,000.
  • The only therapies are surgery, radiation, hormones and the chemotherapy drug Taxotere.

"To charge $90,000 for four months, which comes out to $270,000 for a year of life, I think that's too expensive," said Tito Fojo of the National Cancer Institute.  "A lot of people will say, 'It's my $100,000, and it's my four months.'  Absolutely:  A day is worth $1 million to some people.  Unfortunately, we can't afford it as a society."

Company officials say the cost is not out of line with that of other cancer drugs.  Each treatment with Provenge, which the company estimates cost nearly $1 billion to develop, is tailored to each patient, says the Post.

Source: Rob Stein, "Review of Prostate Cancer Drug Provenge Renews Medical Cost-Benefit Debate," Washington Post, November 8, 2010.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues