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Rising Chemotherapeutic Drug Prices

Chemotherapy is a type of systematic approach to treatment for cancer. It progresses throughout a person's body. While the average teenager may believe the experience is similar to radiation therapy or surgery for cancer, this assumption is incorrect. When a cancer patient undergoes surgery, the tumor, for instance, is being removed from the located site of the body. Radiation therapy, as well, concentrates on eliminating the cancer cells only in a particular area. Therefore, surgery and radiation therapy for cancer are considered 'local medicines' since they only impact one part of a person's body. On the other hand, chemotherapy aims to eliminate cancer cells that have expanded to multiple areas of a person's body, stretching far away from the tumor's original site. It can be taken through pills, shots, or IV infusions. About 650,000 patients experiencing cancer undergo chemotherapy at an oncology clinic in the United States every year. The process can be painful and risky for developing further infections and, in worst-case scenarios, death.

What are Chemotherapeutic Drugs?

These are anti-cancer drugs that intend to eliminate, shrivel, or restrain those harmful cells. Some chemotherapeutic drugs, like alkylating agents, may even attack the cancer cell genes to ensure those cells die off and cannot develop into more tumors. Some examples of these drugs would be melphalan, temozolomide, and cyclophosphamide. These can be useful combating lymphoma, sarcoma, Hodgkin’s disease, lung, breast, and ovarian cancers. However, alkylating agents can potentially damage a person’s bone marrow, which could lead to developing leukemia later on in life. This is why some oncologists try to ensure that the cancer patient takes their chemotherapy one step at a time. They may begin with small doses of the alkylating agents. Taking topoisomerase inhibitors like irinotecan, teniposide, and etoposide, are other examples of anti-cancer drugs that attack enzymes that aid the cancer cell in division and growth in our ovaries, lungs, and intestines. Still, topoisomerase inhibitors can raise the chances of contracting another form of cancer later on too. According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy involves not only just killing cancer cells to regulate a person’s disease but reducing the side effects of killing regular cells.

Cancer Drug Prices Are Increasing in the United States

According to a systematic-review study conducted by Israel-based researcher Noa Gordon, once chemotherapeutic drugs are established in the market, their prices will rise over time.

Gordon and her team of researchers concentrated on 24 licensed, injectable Medicare Part B drugs for cancer authorized by the United States Food and Drug Administration between 1996 and 2012. Throughout their concentration of the 24 drugs, they compared them to the average pricing by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Eight years passed by, and they realized that the drugs' pricing increased by 18% (corrected for inflation). This still occurred even when the generic medicinal types of drugs were available on the market.

According to Gordon's results,

Seattle Genetics provided Adcetris (brentuximab), which cost $19,482 a month in 2011. It is used to treat types of lymphoma. This has risen by about 29% (corrected for inflation).

Eli Lilly provided Alimta (pemetrexed), which cost $5,026 a month in 2004. It is utilized to treat lung cancer. This has grown by about 27% (corrected for inflation).

Novartis provided Arranon (nelarabine), which cost $18,513 a month in 2005. It is used to treat some types of lymphoma and leukemia. This has increased by about 55% (corrected for inflation).

Spectrum Pharmaceutical provided Folotyn (pralatrexate), which cost about $31,684 a month in 2009. It is utilized to treat some types of lymphoma. This has risen by about 31% (corrected for inflation).

Genentech provided Herceptin (trastuzumab), which cost $3,476 a month in 2006. It is used to treat breast cancer. This has increased by about 44% (corrected for inflation).

Wyeth provided Torisel (temsirolimus), which cost $4,791 a month in 2007. It is utilized for kidney cancer treatment. This has grown by about 24% (corrected for inflation).

More information about Noe Gordon's findings can be found in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

What is the Impact on Cancer Patients?

When chemotherapeutic drugs are priced very high, there could be financial and psychological burdens placed on cancer patients. According to a national household survey funded by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), about one-fourth of respondents were concerned about accessing their cancer treatment. They even delayed their other prescriptions, cut their pills in half, or went against their oncologist's orders to reduce costs. The National Cancer Institute also concluded that as the price of chemotherapeutic drugs increased, the cancer patients would face "out-of-pocket costs of nearly $12,000" per year. Clearly, unaffordable access to chemotherapeutic causes drastic effects on Americans.

By Michelle Diaz

Pichardo, Gabriela. “Chemotherapy: How the Drugs That Treat Cancer Work.” WebMD, WebMD,

7 June 2020,

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. “How Chemotherapy Drugs Work.” American Cancer Society, 22 Nov. 2019,


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. “How Is Chemotherapy Used to Treat Cancer?” American Cancer Society, 22 Nov. 2019,


Millar, Heather. “Why Cancer Drug Prices Keep Rising in the U.S.” Cancer on Nautilus, 13 Apr.


Rimer, Barbara K. “Addressing Cancer Drug Costs and Value.” National Cancer Institute, 15 Mar.


Trajectories of Injectable Cancer Drug Costs After Launch in the United States. Published online

October 10, 2017, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. First author Noa Gordon, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel.

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