Got Cancer? Too Bad.
Overdosing on Toxic Treatments
It'd take a pretty heartless person to utter the title to this post. And yet that's effectively what many doctors charged with treating cancer patients - oncologists - are saying to their cancer patients.
This may come as a shock to some, but America's medical profession is increasingly motivated to preserve and enhance their inflated incomes - inflated in comparison to other developed countries with sophisticated medical systems - even if it risks shortening their patients' lives.
Pretty harsh, huh?
Except it's not my words that are harsh. It's the factual evidence that proves that they're true.
Let's back up a bit for some context...
The "C" Word
"Cancer" is still the most feared word in the English language - often wrongly assumed to be synonymous with death.
Many cancers can now be managed as chronic diseases like diabetes or heart failure.
But there's no denying the greater toxicity of chemotherapy and radiation therapy cancer treatments. Their side-effects are well-known and can even hasten patients' demise rather than extend their lives (see our free report - "Death-by-ICU: End-of-Life Care in America").
Most of us assume our doctors would never subject us to more of these highly toxic treatments than absolutely necessary.
And most of us are wrong.
When The Treatment's Worse Than the Disease
Oncology's the only branch of medicine in which physicians are allowed to make a profit on the chemotherapy drugs they administer to their cancer patients.
Because the profit margins on these were considered excessive, Medicare changed its chemotherapy payment formula for oncologists in 2003 and again in 2005. A study published in the journal Health Affairs in 2010 examined the impact of these changes on oncologists' prescribing practices.
What they found speaks volumes to the moral decay that's taken root in American medicine. Anyone who may think Our Healthcare Sucks is overly critical of the growth in unethical medical practices in America should pay attention to what follows. It's pretty damning stuff.
Here's the study's bottom line: After reimbursement rates to oncologists were reduced for certain chemotherapy drugs, they shifted patients to other chemotherapy drugs with the highest profit margins and increased the volume of these toxic agents to make up for their reduced payment rates.
Remember that these are the most toxic drugs on the market - designed to kill cancer cells but also likely to kill healthy cells as one of their side-effects.
Over-prescribing cholesterol-lowering statin drugs is one thing. Most of that over-prescribing - while wrong-headed - is at least well-intentioned.
Over-prescribing highly-toxic chemotherapy drugs is another story altogether. Well-intentioned it isn't. "Predatory" is a word that comes to mind instead.
In case you think I'm embellishing, here's the exact quote from the study in Health Affairs:
We found that chemotherapy treatment rates increased...in response to the new payment system...Oncologists increased the volume of chemotherapy administered in their offices after the implementation of average sales price reimbursements...
"(This reimbursement adjustment) changed the likelihood that (Medicare) beneficiaries received chemotherapy treatment...
"The increase in utilization may have important implications for the well-being of Medicare beneficiaries with cancer."
I'd say so, wouldn't you?.
Cancer Patients are "Sitting Ducks"
This is more than merely "gaming the system", a long-standing medical practice I note in Our Healthcare Sucks that effectively dooms the cost-cutting potential of healthcare reform.
"Gaming the system" implies only financial gamesmanship without any real victims - except those of us paying insurance premiums and taxes inflated by such practices.
Here, however, we have more serious victims - vulnerable cancer patients subjected to excess dosing of highly toxic chemotherapy drugs solely to enhance their oncologists' incomes.
As a post at medicalconsumers.org on this subject stated, patients conditioned to believe that more treatments equals better care are "Sitting ducks for inappropriate and often dangerous medical treatment".
Kevorkians of Cancer
As damning as is this evidence about the unsavory practices and priorities of medical oncology, it isn't limited to chemotherapy. Many oncologists have turned to investing in radiation therapy centers to offset their reduced chemotherapy profits.
A study of such physician-owned radiation therapy centers found the investor-doctors referred patients for radiation therapy four to four-and-a-half times more often than physicians without this financial conflict-of-interest. The fact that these centers also charged more per treatment translated into a combined cost in radiation treatments of up to 7 1/2 times the cost of other physicians.(1)
So here again we see physicians willing to subject their vulnerable patients to excessive exposure to damaging cancer treatments to enhance their incomes.
At least Dr. Kevorkian didn't do it for the money!
Have They No Shame?
These data demonstrate the naivety of denying the financial drivers behind many physicians' treatment practices - even in the extreme situation of patients with advanced cancer who are further compromised by toxic cancer treatments.
It's despicable by any standard, yet it's the norm today. The study in Health Affairs didn't examine a subset of oncologists, after all. It examined total oncology spending for chemotherapy by ALL oncologists in America.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, make sure you and they are wise to what's really going on here.
Demand an integrative approach to cancer treatment that minimizes the dose of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy by using herbal and/or nutritional supplements like melatonin and astragalus. These, among others, may help you reduce the amount of chemotherapy and/or radiation exposure needed for a given result and reduce treatment side-effects.
Do not simply comply with what may be a self-serving treatment overdose to fatten your doctors' wallets without doing your homework and everything possible to avoid treatment injury that could shorten rather than extend your life.
 Consensus of physician ownership of health care facilities – Joint Ventures in radiation therapy. N Eng J Med, 1992;327:1457-501.[hr]
This article is provided for informational and educational purposes only.
It does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied upon as such.