NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Costly Cancer Drugs Pose Hard Questions

June 20, 2003

Several promising new drugs are offering hope in the battle against cancer, but they are expensive. There are increasing concerns regarding the ability of hospitals and government health programs to provide these treatments to uninsured and low-income patients.

At Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Va., for example:

  • Fludara (Fludarabine), a leukemia drug, costs $400 to $750 per infusion.
  • Average doses of Taxol and Herceptin, the popular breast-cancer therapies, cost $1,757 and $1,058, respectively.
  • Rituxan, a biotech lymphoma drug, costs $3,530 for a single infusion.
  • Zevalin -- a new drug that uses monoclonal antibodies to deliver a radioactive isotope to tumor cells -- costs $28,000 a dose.

The cost of these drugs in practice depends on such things as the number of doses treatment requires, how it is administered, and the drugs required to combat side effects. By comparison, bone marrow transplants -- another therapy used in combination with drugs and radiation -- typically costs $100,000 to $250,000.

The price tag of cancer treatments worries low and middle-income patients and health care professionals at cancer centers that care for the underinsured. Eleven percent of cancer patients under the age of 65 have no insurance coverage at all. Among minorities, the uninsured population among cancer patients can be as high as 20 percent.

Some clinics use state subsidies to provide treatment for low-income, uninsured patients. Some aggressively seek donations. Since January 2000, for instance, Massey Cancer Center has received $14.5 million of free drugs from manufacturers -- but only 2 percent of that was cancer drugs or treatments.

Source: Lucette Lagnado, "What Is a Bet on Life Worth?" and "Last Hope for Lymphoma, $28,000 a Dose," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2003.

For WSJ text (requires subscription),,SB10558860967644900-search,00.html


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