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PHARMA/PHYSICIANS: More on oncology drugs

And if you want to read more about the oncology story featured in Matt Quinn’s TCHB article yesterday, here’s an article from Doug Bandow, one of the "sensible libertarians" over at Cato (as opposed to the loony libertarians at take your pick of the Mellon-Scaife funded institutes….) in which he basically applauds Congress for eventually taking action on the taxpayers’ behalf here, and calls for more, and more logical, government intervention in the oncology market.

Hat tip to LM for the link.

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  1. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) says oncologists should make chemotherapy treatment recommendations on the basis of published reports of clinical trials and a patient’s health status and treatment preferences.
    So what about those published reports of clinical trials?
    More chemotherapy is given for breast cancer than for any other form of cancer and there have been more published reports of clinical trials for breast cancer than for any other form of cancer.
    According to the National Cancer Institute’s March 31, 2006 official cancer information website on “state of the art” chemotherapy for recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, it is unclear whether single-agent chemotherapy or combination chemotherapy is preferable for first-line treatment. At this time, no data support the superiority of any particular regimen. So, it would appear that published reports of clinical trials provide precious little in the way of guidance (1).
    In the total absence of guidance from published reports of clinical trials then, what basis are treatment regimens selected instead? ASCO says that this should be further based on a patient’s health status and patient treatment preferences.
    So what is being done?
    Recently published in the journal Health Affairs is a joint Harvard/Michigan study entitled, “Does reimbursement influence chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients?” The authors documented a clear association between reimbursement to the oncologists for the chemotherapy of breast, lung, and colorectal cancer and the regimens which the oncologists selected for the patients. In other words, oncologists tended to base their treatment decisions on which regimen provided the greatest financial remuneration to the oncologist (2).
    A March 8, 2006 New York Times article described the study. One of the more interesting aspects of the story was a comment from an executive with ASCO, Dr. Joseph S. Bailes, who disputed the study’s findings, saying that cancer doctors select treatments only on the basis of clinical evidence (3).
    So ASCO’s Dr. Bailes maintains that drugs are chosen only on the basis of “clinical evidence.”
    Yet Dr. Neil Love reported a survey of breast cancer oncologists based in academic medical centers and community based, private practice medical oncologists. The former oncologists do not derive personal profit from the administration of infusion chemotherapy, the latter oncologists do derive personal profit from infusion chemotherapy, while deriving no profit from prescribing oral-dosed chemotherapy.
    The results of the survey could not have been more clear-cut. For first line chemotherapy of metastatic breast cancer, 84-88% of the academic center-based oncologists (who are motivated to keep off-protocol patients out of their chemotherapy infusion rooms to reserve these rooms for on-protocol patients) prescribed an oral-dose drug (capecitabine), while only 13% prescribed infusion drugs, and none of them prescribed the expensive, highly remunerative drug docetaxel.
    In contrast, among the commuity-based oncologists, only 18% prescribed the non-remunerative oral-dose drug (capecitabine), while 75% prescribed remunerative infusion drugs, and about 40% prescribed the expensive, highly remunerative drug docetaxel (4).
    While the Michigan/Harvard study showed results before the new Medicare reform, the Patterns of Care study showed results that the Medicare reforms are still not working. It is still an impossible conflict of interest.
    And the existence of this profit motive in drug selection has been one of the major factors working against the individualization of cancer chemotherapy based on testing the cancer biology.
    Two scientific studies giving us a dose of reality that once a decision to give chemotherapy is taken, oncologists receiving more-generous Medicare reimbursements used more-costly treatment regimens.
    It’s not that all oncologists are bad people. It’s just that it is still an impossible conflict of interest (i.e. it’s the SYSTEM which is rotten). Some oncologists prescribe chemotherapy drugs with equal efficacies and toxicities. I would imagine that some are influenced by the whole state of affairs, possibly without even entirely admitting it. There are so many ways for humans to rationalize their behavior. The solution is not to put the doctors in jail, it’s to change the system.
    Sources:
    (1) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/breast/HealthProfessional/page8#Section_297
    (2) http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/25/2/437
    (3) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/08/health/08docs.html?ex=1152158400&en=55fd0d687b5771de&ei=5070
    (4) http://patternsofcare.com/2005/1/editor.htm (figure 37, volume 2, issue 1, 2005)

  2. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) says oncologists should make chemotherapy treatment recommendations on the basis of published reports of clinical trials and a patient’s health status and treatment preferences.
    So what about those published reports of clinical trials?
    More chemotherapy is given for breast cancer than for any other form of cancer and there have been more published reports of clinical trials for breast cancer than for any other form of cancer.
    According to the National Cancer Institute’s March 31, 2006 official cancer information website on “state of the art” chemotherapy for recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, it is unclear whether single-agent chemotherapy or combination chemotherapy is preferable for first-line treatment. At this time, no data support the superiority of any particular regimen. So, it would appear that published reports of clinical trials provide precious little in the way of guidance (1).
    In the total absence of guidance from published reports of clinical trials then, what basis are treatment regimens selected instead? ASCO says that this should be further based on a patient’s health status and patient treatment preferences.
    So what is being done?
    Recently published in the journal Health Affairs is a joint Harvard/Michigan study entitled, “Does reimbursement influence chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients?” The authors documented a clear association between reimbursement to the oncologists for the chemotherapy of breast, lung, and colorectal cancer and the regimens which the oncologists selected for the patients. In other words, oncologists tended to base their treatment decisions on which regimen provided the greatest financial remuneration to the oncologist (2).
    A March 8, 2006 New York Times article described the study. One of the more interesting aspects of the story was a comment from an executive with ASCO, Dr. Joseph S. Bailes, who disputed the study’s findings, saying that cancer doctors select treatments only on the basis of clinical evidence (3).
    So ASCO’s Dr. Bailes maintains that drugs are chosen only on the basis of “clinical evidence.”
    Yet Dr. Neil Love reported a survey of breast cancer oncologists based in academic medical centers and community based, private practice medical oncologists. The former oncologists do not derive personal profit from the administration of infusion chemotherapy, the latter oncologists do derive personal profit from infusion chemotherapy, while deriving no profit from prescribing oral-dosed chemotherapy.
    The results of the survey could not have been more clear-cut. For first line chemotherapy of metastatic breast cancer, 84-88% of the academic center-based oncologists (who are motivated to keep off-protocol patients out of their chemotherapy infusion rooms to reserve these rooms for on-protocol patients) prescribed an oral-dose drug (capecitabine), while only 13% prescribed infusion drugs, and none of them prescribed the expensive, highly remunerative drug docetaxel.
    In contrast, among the commuity-based oncologists, only 18% prescribed the non-remunerative oral-dose drug (capecitabine), while 75% prescribed remunerative infusion drugs, and about 40% prescribed the expensive, highly remunerative drug docetaxel (4).
    While the Michigan/Harvard study showed results before the new Medicare reform, the Patterns of Care study showed results that the Medicare reforms are still not working. It is still an impossible conflict of interest.
    And the existence of this profit motive in drug selection has been one of the major factors working against the individualization of cancer chemotherapy based on testing the cancer biology.
    Two scientific studies giving us a dose of reality that once a decision to give chemotherapy is taken, oncologists receiving more-generous Medicare reimbursements used more-costly treatment regimens.
    It’s not that all oncologists are bad people. It’s just that it is still an impossible conflict of interest (i.e. it’s the SYSTEM which is rotten). Some oncologists prescribe chemotherapy drugs with equal efficacies and toxicities. I would imagine that some are influenced by the whole state of affairs, possibly without even entirely admitting it. There are so many ways for humans to rationalize their behavior. The solution is not to put the doctors in jail, it’s to change the system.
    Sources:
    (1) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/breast/HealthProfessional/page8#Section_297
    (2) http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/25/2/437
    (3) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/08/health/08docs.html?ex=1152158400&en=55fd0d687b5771de&ei=5070
    (4) http://patternsofcare.com/2005/1/editor.htm (figure 37, volume 2, issue 1, 2005)

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