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Doctors recommend elimination of cancer tests and treatments (1)

Recently, a task force with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released a controversial list containing five common tests and treatments that the panel says should no longer be offered to cancer patients. The procedures on the list, the panel said, have not been shown to help cancer patients live longer and may actually have a detrimental effect, significantly decreasing quality of life and harming patients' health.

Naturally, the list has created some controversy, and it is too soon to tell whether doctors in New Jersey and throughout the country will comply with the recommendations. However, with a continued rise in both health care costs and needs, it makes sense to reevaluate diagnostic and treatment tools from both a budgetary and a effectiveness standpoint.

According to a 2008 analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget office, about 30 percent of spending on health care goes to tests and procedures that do not significantly improve a patient's health. This is not terribly surprising when taken with the ASCO report, which gives the example of several cancer medications which cost up to $100,000 but which only extend a patient's life by a few months, if at all.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and ASCO is quick to admit that cancer doctors should base all medical decisions on the individual patient, and not on a list of recommendations. The challenge will be to balance the needs of the vast majority of patients who are not helped by these procedures against the small number who are.

We will continue our discussion of the ASCO list in our next blog post.

Source: Reuters, "Doctors call for end to five cancer tests, treatments," Sharon Begley, April 4, 2012

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