Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Another "what's wrong with our healthcare system" story

You may have heard that there's a new drug for one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, melanoma. Combined with an existing cancer drug, the treatment has the potential to lengthen the lives of patients with skin cancer that has spread. The story got a lot of airtime over the weekend and was described by a melanoma specialist as offering an "unprecedented time of celebration for our patients."

But if you look closer, you might notice that "more than half of patients with metastatic melanoma would not be helped all that much by either drug" and that "experts said they might add two to several months to the expected lifespans of people with advanced melanoma."

Two to several months? I can only speak for myself, but that doesn't seem like much of a breakthrough to me. If I had advanced cancer, I would find it difficult to put myself through any treatment that wasn't likely to extend my life for more than a year (maybe even two).

This "breakthrough" highlights one of the major reasons we spend so much on healthcare in this country: expensive new drugs that provide marginal improvements in lifespan or quality of life. And most of the media lacks the expertise to accurately report on medical and scientific research or even to identify which stories are truly significant.

Sigh.

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