Liz Szabo fits several important reminders into her story about the FDA’s approval of Provenge for prostate cancer. For example:
• Benefits: the vaccine helped men with advanced prostate cancer live four months longer than men given placebo shots.
• Harms: one in four Provenge patients had a serious side effect, with 3.5% suffering a stroke, compared to 2.6% of those on placebo.
• Uncertainties: “doctors still have many questions about the vaccine”
• Cost: “A February analysis by J.P. Morgan estimates that Provenge could cost closer to $70,000 to $100,000 … That could put the drug out of reach even for patients with insurance, as some plans require patients to pay 20% of their medication costs.”
There is no question this is a significant advance in introducing a new method of targeted cancer therapy, but some of the stories we’ve seen are caught up in hyperbolic language like “breakthrough” and “landmark. ” More stories should emphasize the life-extending benefit of four months at a time when Szabo reminds us:
‘A growing number of health economists and patient advocates have expressed concern about the skyrocketing cost of cancer drugs. Many health plans are raising out-of-pocket costs to help cover these expenses, research shows.”