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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Redefining success in cancer care

It’s common knowledge that the U.S. healthcare system is costly — the latest estimates put the yearly spend at $4.1 trillion, or over $12,500 per person. While health is certainly worth a large investment, I think it would be difficult to argue that we’ve optimized our spending to maximize lifespan and, more importantly, healthspan.

Unfortunately, many of the most expensive treatments on the market provide minimal extension of lifespan and often zero extension of healthspan. For example, cancer therapies are considered a huge success if they can provide a patient with one more month of life.

Don’t get me wrong, every extra day of life is meaningful. I’m not suggesting that we give up our pursuit of effective cancer treatments. Nevertheless, I do think that the proportion of spending that goes into these treatments is excessive, and that it might be time to re-evaluate what an extra month of life — and an extra month on one’s deathbed, at that — is worth.

If we were able to shift some of the money that goes into development of new treatments towards cancer screenings and other preventive measures, we would check all the boxes:

  1. Extend lifespan well beyond what can be done with cancer treatments

  2. Extend healthspan (most would agree that life cancer-free is a lot more valuable than life suffering through the late stages of cancer treatment)

  3. Reduce costs significantly from cutting down on the exorbitant prices of development and approval for new drugs and devices

This diversion of resources is not glamorous. Americans are obsessed with finding “cures” — easy fixes that allow us to conquer the problems nature throws our way. While I’m all for that ambition, I’m afraid the reality is that effective treatments for many cancers are still decades away. In the meantime, we ought to invest heavily in what we know works — even if it’s not as exciting.


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