Imagine you were suffering from a terminal illness and a treatment could boost your immune system to help fight the disease. The drug would not be a cure, may extend your life by about 4 months and costs $93,000 per patient.
Would you take it?
The treatment does exist and it soon may be a viable option for many older men with prostate cancer.
Medicare officials announced Wednesday that the agency is moving toward paying for Provenge, the first cancer treatment vaccine. The final decision comes in June. (The Food and Drug Administration approved the therapy last year.)
Average results from early clinical trials showed men with advanced prostate cancer who took the drug lived up to 4.5 months longer – some actually lived a few years longer.
The treatment is not without controversy. Price aside, the drug’s nomenclature is tricky: Most “vaccines” are given to prevent illness or disease. Provenge is more of a therapeutic vaccine and could actually be considered a cancer treatment. (How Provenge works.)
As more people learn about palliative care and more hospitals embrace this end-of-life approach, some critics question if an extra few months of life is worth the cost and time taken for the treatment. Provenge isn’t a cure, after all. Even patients who live years after taking the therapy still have cancer. (Actually, if there was a such thing as non-palliative, palliative care, Provenge would fit the bill.)
But for many, four months is four months they may not have had without the treatment. That extra time may determine whether a terminally ill patient gets to see their child walk down the aisle or graduate. Or a chance to eke out a few more precious moments with a grandchild. Or a chance to witness the craziness that is this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. Or a chance to see who wins “Dancing with the Stars.” (Don’t laugh. Dancing is kind of a big deal, people.)
Again, four months … is four months.
Making the decision to begin or end therapy is never an easy one. It’s a very personal decision that should always come after careful consideration.
What do you think?