KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

New Therapies Can Turn Cancer Into Chronic Disease

Two new studies suggest that the prolonged use of cancer drugs helped stunt the progress of the disease, a shift from the scheduled courses of treatment typically delivered to patients, The Wall Street Journal reports. For example, the drug Rituxan "cut the risk of cancer returning in certain lymphoma patients by half when used as a maintenance treatment for two years." The studies show "how cancer is often becoming a chronic disease," according to the Journal (Dooren and Winslow, 5/21).

The New York Times: "The studies on longer cancer treatment involve what is called maintenance therapy. It is a strategy for making cancer into a chronic disease like diabetes or hypertension, held in check by continuous use of medicines. Typically, cancer patients stop taking antitumor drugs once their tumors have shrunk or the disease goes into remission. They do not resume taking drugs until the tumor starts growing again. " The Times notes that neither study has so far demonstrated that this type of treatment actually helps people live longer and cautions that long-term cancer drug use could have side effects and is expensive. A two-year supply of Rituxan costs $50,000 while one of the other drugs studied costs $6,000 a month (Pollack, 5/20).

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