Friday, January 16, 2015

Facts of Rising Cancer Costs Show Living to 150 Is Nonsense

Radical life extensionists are those who preach the inane doctrine that very soon we will behold such marvelous inroads of technology and wonder drugs that humans will be able to live to an average of 150 years or even longer. In several previous blog posts I've called this out as basic balderdash, given that any life extension isn't worth the product-drugs used to attain it if Alzheimer's disease isn't eliminated. (After age 65, the incidence of Alzheimer's doubles - so imagine the number of Alzheimer's patients if the medical industrial complex managed to extend life span to 150.)  And it is not a given that any dent will be made into the dire stats anytime soon, which includes the enormous expense of treating it - expected to reach over $1 trillion within 15 years.

But leave out Alzheimer's for now.  The report of rising cancer costs in yesterday's Financial Times ought to give even more of those on the "Life Extension" bandwagon pause. The FT reported that the Cancer Drugs Fund - a scheme in Britain's National Health Service (NHS) program - is to be cut by 30%. It is this fund which pays for expensive oncology drugs typically used in advanced cases (when only a few months additional life extension is expected.) There is also the near certainty such cuts will also appear in the U.S.

This is all very relevant given that the FT cites statistics that the projected global cancer cases will rise to 1.5 billion in the next 35 years. Assuming the global population reaches 9 billion by 2050 that means 1 of 6 inhabitants of the planet will be cancer patients. How many will survive? That depends on the treatments, therapies available, their costs and affordability. In the case of my prostate cancer treatment, the total cost of radiation therapy (high dose brachytherapy) came to nearly $50,000. Fortunately, Medicare paid for most of it though if I'd had only "vouchers" (as Paul Ryan has proposed) I'd likely have had to pay $40,000 or more out of pocket.

Who are most affected? Older people, irrespective of nationality. As the FT noted, "few diseases are as age-related as cancer".  These aging statistics have led the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts the number of cases to increase 70 percent in just 20 years.

The bleak cancer incidence trends are already increasing demand to the point the NHS in Britain has announced a number of therapies have been cut by 30 percent to contain spiraling costs.  As one Eli Lilly executive put it, quoted in the FT:

"What we're seeing in the UK is the first manifestation that controlling the cost of cancer drugs is not sustainable."

The latest strategies involve what is called "immuno-oncology" - in which new drugs and treatments are designed to boost the immune system's ability to detect and fight cancers. The problem is the cost of some of these can reach thousands a month and if insurance companies won't pay, the patients are left to scramble. Indeed, the exploding cost of the drugs means the only ones who will be able to survive cancer are the very rich.

This casts a pall over the recent promises (seen in the corporo-media) of "medical breakthroughs" that lead to radical extension of life span.

Well, maybe for the rich, but not many others if the current trends continue. In that context, the rich may be the only ones with the resources not to outlive their money anyway- assuming they reached 150!

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