The high costs of American health care are well documented. A cancer diagnosis is devastating, even as we improve mortality rates across many diagnoses. This is largely due to the high costs of treatments: patients who survive still have to deal with the damage to their savings, increased debt load, and potential damage to the whole family’s finances.
We need to do better. Cancer shouldn’t result in a choice between a death sentence or a ticket to a lifetime of debt. You can learn more about the top trends influencing the future of affordable cancer care via Oncotarget, which collects and shares peer-reviewed and reputable new findings on oncology and medical research. Here are some of the leading trends.
A focus on preventative measures and screening is a step in the right direction. Cancer vaccines are an incredibly exciting new direction of research and pharmaceutical development. It may sound startling – even absurd – to take a “cancer vaccine”, but the HPV vaccine, widely distributed to the most prevalent victims, young women, in many developed countries has shown excellent results in reducing rates of new cervical cancer diagnoses.
A cancer blood test or another type of easily, inexpensively, and widely available screening test is highly desired and the subject of much research. While it’s not a solution yet, this field of study does show some promise, and would readily fit into existing channels of health care with little additional investment. Medical imaging is also effective for some screening but is more expensive.
Screening tests for types of cancer that don’t present with noticeable symptoms in the early stages is another effective approach. Colon cancer and breast cancer tend to manifest in middle-aged or older adults, and are readily treated in their early stages. Increasing access to early screenings can cut down on cancer treatments by catching the disease early before it has time to spread and requires more extensive interventions.
A recently and increasingly publicized link between dietary sugar and cancer growth is an exciting development. Findings indicate that lifestyle changes, including shifting to a diet high in healthy fats and low in carbs and particularly in starches and refined sugars, may be effective in preventing new cancers, slowing the development of existing cancerous growths, and even, controversially, reversing cancer without expensive treatments. Further research is needed, but these findings also suggest new directions in cancer research and related pharmaceutical interventions.
Other proactive approaches to reducing cancer include further research into the causes and readily available preventative elements. Large-scale reductions in the use of and exposure to toxic chemicals and high-risk substances have had strong social support. Pesticides and household chemicals that were once widespread have been discontinued entirely. Warnings, public health campaigns and preventative measures have dramatically reduced the portion of the population that regularly smokes tobacco and cut down incidences of lung cancer. Sunscreen and reduced sun exposure targets an important reduction in skin cancer – one of the most expensive forms of cancer. Excessive drinking is another potential lifestyle factor that could offer reductions in cancer incidences if addressed.
On the potentially beneficial side of the equation, antioxidants are of interest, and vitamin D may reduce colorectal cancer. Common painkillers, oddly, have recently been tapped as a potential preventative.
Some of the expense in cancer care is related to the whole-body extended effects of prevailing cancer treatments. The symptoms of various cancers can necessitate treatment for comfort, quality of life, and to limit related damage. The leading responses to cancer, including extraction surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, cause additional damage to the body, and professional care and medication costs related to enduring the experience can add up to a significant sum.
Less damaging treatments are one approach to reducing the total costs of cancer. Targeted gene therapy is being explored to destroy cancer without causing damage to healthy tissue. These treatments could replace more damaging existing treatments, reduce the duration of total treatment, and allow patients to get back to their lives with less disruption and debt.
Collective bargaining and health insurance or government-backed pressure on the medical establishment is another pathway being explored to reducing cancer costs. It may take some time to shift the norms of medical professionals, institutions and corporations, but automation, changing public and political perceptions, and pressure to achieve greater efficiency could help fuel a shift to cost reductions in cancer and other medical care.
Affordable cancer care needs to stop being a dream and start becoming an achievable reality. The path toward affordable care will include a shift in public and political attitudes and policy to spread recommendations for improved preventative measures and reduce real costs through automation, efficiency measures and lower-cost treatments. Growing awareness of the financial damage of treatment to individuals, families and society is driving a wave of change that we all need to join.