Cancer “Breakthroughs” that Cost Too Much and Do Too Little

That was a recent headline in Newsweek & Daily Beast

We hear news about cancer every day—often many stories on any given day…and not just during October, which is breast cancer month. We’ve become obsessed with cancer and most of us have some kind of personal experience with the disease. We’re either a victim, a survivor, have a loved one with cancer, have friends who are oncologists and/or we’re involved with efforts to raise awareness or funds aimed at finding the cure.

It becomes mind-numbing after awhile. And it continues to get more complicated. We learned just last week that they’ve discovered four different types of breast cancer—each with different treatment regimens depending on the genome map of the patient. And with all of that complexity comes a price: in pain, anguish and dollars.

For this blog, I selected a few recent headlines that tell much of the story themselves. Listed below, each was delivered by a different major news organization (all names that you trust). From the frequency of the news that we see, each of those news companies must have dedicated staff who write nothing but cancer stories. (See links to all below)

  1. The Cancer “Breakthroughs” that Cost Too Much and Do Too Little – Newsweek
  2. Texas hospital plans ‘moonshot’ against cancer – CBS News
  3. Cancer’s growing burden: the high cost of care – USA Today
  4. The costly war on cancer – The Economist
  5. The World’s Most Expensive Drugs – Forbes

From Newsweek: Americans spent more than $23 billion last year for cancer drugs, more than we paid for prescriptions to treat anything else.

CBS News. The nation’s largest cancer center is launching a massive “moonshot” effort against eight specific forms of the disease, similar to the all-out push for space exploration 50 years ago.

USA Today New drugs often cost $100,000 or more a year. Patients are being put on them sooner in the course of their illness and for a longer time — sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Forbes. The nine drugs on our list all cost more than $200,000 a year for the average patient who takes them. Most of them treat rare genetic diseases that afflict fewer than 10,000 patients. For these diseases, there are few if any other treatments. So biotech companies can charge pretty much whatever they want.

The Economist. Cancer plays a huge role in raising costs. America’s National Institutes of Health predict that spending on all cancer treatment will rise from $125 billion last year to at least $158 billion in 2020. If drugs become pricier, as seems likely, that bill could rise to $207 billion.

So what does all this mean? To me, it means MONEY. And with cancer, it almost seems like there is no end in sight. From The Economist article:

CANCER is not one disease. It is many. Yet oncologists have long used the same blunt weapons to fight different types of cancer: cut the tumour out, zap it with radiation or blast it with chemotherapy that kills good cells as well as bad ones.

New cancer drugs are changing this. Scientists are now attacking specific mutations that drive specific forms of cancer.

And with every person possessing a totally unique genome map, the possibilities are endless. Times are changing in the drug business. In the old days, a drug company would sell millions of people the same drug, like Lipitor. But for the future, “Big Pharma” is betting that most of their money will be made in personalized medicine. And it’s their PR departments that drive the news cycle—that makes that happen. From the article:

This chart from “The Economist” article tells the story. The number of cancer drugs in development compared to the other leading categories.

This month Pfizer, an American company, announced that America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would speed up its review of a cancer drug called crizotinib. Roche submitted an FDA application for a new medicine, vemurafenib. The industry is pouring money into clinical trials for cancer drugs (see chart).

This is part of a shift in how big drug firms do business. For years they have relied on blockbusters that treat many people. Now they are investing in more personalised medicine: biotech drugs that treat small groups of patients more effectively.

The Bottom Line. The chart above tells the story. CANCER has almost as many drugs in development as ALL of the nine other leading categories—COMBINED.

But what about alerting people to the leading cause?

Sadly, not a single one these articles even mentions the fact that most cancers could be prevented with an optimal diet. And many could be slowed, stopped or reversed with the same simple, painless, inexpensive lifestyle changes. But there is no money to be made in those lifestyle changes.

Consecutive daily blogs (numerals today from Nevada)

Another option. For those who don’t wish to see their families suffer the pain, agony and expense of conventional cancer treatment, the alternative can be yours for less than $50. The earlier you adopt a near-optimal diet, the less the chances that you and your family will ever have cancer—or any other chronic disease.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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