Mar 21, 2012

Cancer Clinical Trials: Will you get stuck with the bill?

The answer is not simple, but often the news is favorable. It turns out that it matters where you live and how old you are.  In general, clinical trials that test treatments for cancer provide the new investigational drug free of charge and also cover those procedures that are being done solely for research purposes. Those things that routinely happen in the course of cancer care—such as physician visits, routine lab tests, and scans—are generally billed to the patient’s health insurance provider.

Many, but not all insurers cover these costs. For those over the age of 65, Medicare covers these costs for most clinical trials. The majority of states have passed laws requiring that state-regulated health plans also cover such costs and The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (a.k.a. healthcare reform law) requires that all insurers cover these costs by 2014. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that about half of current state laws fall short of the upcoming federal requirements.  The most common shortcomings include lack of coverage for prevention studies and phase I studies. Learn more about these issues and see where your state stands in the article.

To put a smile on your face see Larry's latest cartoon

(c) 2012 Tom Beer and Larry Axmaker

Mar 16, 2012

Stopping Cancer—could the immune system hold the key?

Researchers hope new vaccines may be one of the answers.

Traditional cancer treatment often involves surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. While these approaches often have success, cancer is still a leading cause of death. More than 150 types of cancer have been identified.

One of the newest treatment approaches uses vaccines to treat cancers. A unique feature of these vaccines is that they stimulate your own immune system to identify and kill cancer cells. This works much the same as the vaccines you have had for smallpox, measles, and other diseases, except it has been far more difficult with cancer. Unlike infections, which are caused by foreign organisms invading our bodies, cancer comes from within and therefore is much better at evading the immune system.

In recent clinical trials using vaccines, some participants have had their cancer growth stopped and a fortunate few have remained cancer-free since treatment. Why some patients respond to vaccines and others do not is still something of a mystery and the focus of intensive research.

Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy depress or weaken the immune system and can cause serious side effects. Cancer vaccines strengthen your immune system and are less likely to cause serious side effects.

Testing new vaccines will mean many clinical trials before they’re perfected and approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

Learn more about cancer vaccines from the American Cancer Society

Mar 10, 2012

Red pills are better than blue pills and other interesting observations

In a follow up to its high profile story that we wrote about, CBS News 60 minutes discusses more fascinating facts about placebos.  Did you know that the color of the pills you take might matter?  Who would have thought?

Read more about placebos in an earlier post on our blog.

To put a smile on your face see Larry's latest cartoon

(c) 2012 Tom Beer and Larry Axmaker

Mar 3, 2012

An open source approach to clinical trials

 It lets patients help decide what they actually need...

A new drug development company, Transparency LifeSciences, is planning to offer an alternative to the normal clinical trial process—trying to make it more transparent, faster, cheaper, more effective, more inclusive, and more easily available to patients.

Dr. Tomasz Sablinski, founder of Transparency Life Sciences, has been frustrated by the “secrecy” in the clinical trials process. “The price you pay when you hide what you’re doing is you only get feedback from a precious few people.” He believes, “You have to add patients to the mix, because they’re really the reason you’re doing drug development.”

Dr. Sablinski is recruiting patients, physicians, and scientists—online—to share information, offer suggestions, and help create and launch this new, open type of clinical trial. Information and results will be available to everyone—whether the results are negative or positive.