By the end of 2013, nearly 1.7 million Americans will have been diagnosed with cancer. Global cancer mortality rates may grow from 12.8 million in 2008 to 22.2 million in 2030… but our future is looking brighter thanks to oncology innovation. More Americans are surviving cancer: the prediction for 2012 cancer survivors was 12 million, but we exceeded that by almost 2 million additional survivors. With these advancements, we’re fighting back. We’re making incredible strides in cancer treatment. Oncology is a growing field with many notable successes, and it shows promise in increasing cancer survival rates and finding a real cure.
There are a wide variety of treatments and preventive measures available for cancer. Oral oncolytics (oral chemotherapy, usually self-administered) are a growing market — new agents come to the market 12 times faster than they did in 2003. They make up 25% of the therapies currently in the drug pipeline. Unfortunately, these drugs have a very low rate of cancer patient adherence — some 80% of patients do not take the therapies as instructed, which can be fatal.
Immunotherapy (a.k.a. biologic therapy or biotherapy) reprograms a patient’s immune system to fight disease, including certain cancers. A main target is melanoma, for which there are a few products currently in the oncology therapy pipeline. Oncology immunotherapy typically works best in conjunction with other treatments.
Genetic testing can predict cancer risk by looking at biomarkers (gene mutations). Some 5-10% of cancers may have genetic roots that greatly impact one’s risk of developing the disease. Predictive genetic testing (looking for these gene mutations) is the most useful type for identifying cancer risk, and can also help determine the best treatment.
Conventional therapies like chemotherapy and radiation therapy damage normal cells while fighting cancerous cells. This reduces quality of life and can affect a patient’s ability to continue treatment. But targeted cancer therapy focus only on cancer cells, resulting in higher effectiveness and decreased negative side effects. These therapies slow the growth of the cancer while killing existing cancer cells, and are most common as small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.
The best way to determine ideal treatment is with cancer staging. TNM is usually the way this is judged: “T” for tumor size, “N” for whether cancer has reached the lymph nodes, and “M” for whether it has metastasized to other organs.
There are many resources for cancer patients and their families to get tips for improved quality of life. These include online databases and groups, literature, mobile apps, support groups, and specialized products.
Aside from treatment, prevention is a major focus of cancer research. DNA testing can alert patients to cancer risk, while good nutrition and an overall healthy lifestyle can also reduce one’s chances of developing cancer.
Many patient access programs can help cancer patients. Medicare and State Patient Assistance Programs (SPAPs) offer government aid so that qualifying patients only have to pay a copayment for medical care. Oncology Patient Assistance and Access Programs (PAPs) provide prescriptions and discount cards as well as services like benefits verification and counseling. Expanded Access Programs (EAPs) allow patients to try new drug therapies before they are FDA-approved. EAPs are for critically ill patients only, and focus on treatment rather than research.
Oncology treatments are usually covered by health plans. The Affordable Care Act will increase that scope of coverage for cancer patients, survivors, and the relatives of both. It will cover cancer screenings and check-ups as well as quality-of-life training for physicians.
The difference between Pharmacy Benefit Managers and Oncology Benefit Managers is that PBMs are involved in all prescriptions, reviewing with insurance and health providers, while OBMs focus on oncology treatments/drugs and ensure greater compliance.
Oncological innovations are receiving “breakthrough” status (FDA approval for expedited development) more frequently than other fields. This quickens time to approval and reduces the likelihood of multiple companies overlapping goals.
With these developments, we’re closer than ever to winning the fight against cancer.
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