Sunday is Mother’s Day, and this Mother’s Day I will be thinking of my wife who has been a gift from the gods to me, but also two other women in my life who are equally as important; my own mother, who unfortunately passed away in 2014 of lung cancer, and my sister who passed away in 2016, of ovarian cancer.
Many of you will be celebrating women who are important in your lives, and many of you will be doing so by walking/running/cycling in one of the many events being held to support breast/ovarian and the other cancers that affect women.
Whilst out and about here are a few things you may want to consider:
It took doctor’s over two years to diagnose my sister with ovarian cancer and by the time they did, they were already too late because the cancer had spread to numerous other parts of her body. Her oncologist did her best to remove as much of the cancer as possible, before she started chemo and radiation treatment, but again it was too little, too late. As a side note, her oncologist was later dismissed from Credit Valley Hospital because, as the board stated, she was spending too much operating time on her patients. In my sister’s case, she was scheduled for an hour. That is because they thought all they had to remove was a small tumour from one of her ovaries. Her oncologist ended up spending eight hours on her instead. She was subsequently told that she should have stuck to the hour, removed what she could and then passed my sister on to the cancer clinic to deal with. Her oncologist said she could not ‘operate’ under these conditions. Her choice was to do so, or leave. She is now working in a private clinic in California.
In my mum’s situation her diagnoses came a lot quicker, but then again her being a smoker for over 60 years; it was inevitable that she was going to get lung cancer. Unfortunately for her, there was little the doctors could do for her. Sure they have chemotherapy and radiation and surgery, but just how successful are these? Not very. More patients will die from cancer than will survive.
There are many reasons for this. One is that there is no cure. We all know this. Most cancer research is based on the HeLa cell, which originally showed very positive results. However recently studies have shown that the HeLa cells were not all they were cracked up to be and could actually have been giving false results for numerous years. This now means that a lot of research will now have to be redone at a cost of billions of dollars. This topic has also been in the news a lot lately as there is a movie coming out about it starring Oprah Winfrey.
Secondly, research is also showing that the majority of any new cancer drugs are doing very little to improve the survival rates of cancer patients or have offered patients only marginal benefits, with no evidence that they improve survival or quality of life. Overall cancer survival has barely changed over the past decade. The 72 cancer therapies approved from 2002 to 2014 gave patients only 2.1 more months of life than older drugs, according to a study in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.
And those are the successes. Two-thirds of cancer drugs approved in the past two years have no evidence showing that they extend survival at all.
The result: For every cancer patient who wins the lottery, there are many others who get little to no benefit from the latest drugs. Cancer drugs approved last year cost an average of $171,000 a year, according to the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Although the high prices can lead patients to think they’re getting the Mercedes of cancer drugs, research shows that a medication’s price has no relationship to how well it works.
Which brings us to the third point; the most popular drug used for breast cancer, more specifically a certain type of breast cancer HER-2 is a drug known as Herceptin.
Herceptin (Trastuzumab), one of Roche’s three HER+ breast cancer drugs, recorded a 15 percent sales increase in the US and a 10 percent rise overall. Sales were driven by longer durations of treatment in combination with Perjeta, another HER2+ breast cancer treatment from Roche, for both early and advanced breast cancer. China and Brazil also contributed to strong growth in Herceptin sales during the year. Developed by Genentech (now part of Roche), Herceptin was first approved by the USFDA in September 1998, becoming the first FDA-approved therapeutic antibody targeted to a specific (HER2) cancer-related molecular marker.
The drug received the EC’s approval in August 2000 and has since been approved in several countries. Roche has exclusive marketing rights for the drug outside the U.S. Herceptin is currently approved for treatment of HER2+ breast cancer, and the metastatic type when used either in combination with the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel or alone, in patients who have undergone chemotherapy at least once for metastatic disease.
It is also an approved first-line treatment for HER2+ metastatic cancer of the stomach or gastro-oesophageal junction. A time-saving subcutaneous formulation of the drug was approved in Europe in September 2013 which can be administered in just two to five minutes, rather than 30 to 90 minutes intravenously.
Herceptin therapy can cost over $70,000 a year per patient and although recent findings have seen some very positive outcomes for women with breast cancer, it remains incurable and still means patients suffer the side-effects that go along with using any chemotherapy. Also, Herceptin is used to treat a specific form of breast cancer -HER2 positive- and not all breast cancers.
But the biggest winner in all of this is Roche who nets over $6.5 billion in annual sales of Herceptin.
Maybe this Mother’s Day, while you are out walking/running/cycling, you may want to give a few minutes to ponder where all that money is going that you and many others are raising.
Andrew Glen holds a B.A. in English and Political Science from Western University (UWO). He is married with two sons and lives in London Ont. He is the author of Beating the Odds; a chronicle of his battle with and overcoming StageIV bladder cancer. War Dads, a fictional novel dealing with the unfortunate events surrounding PTSD and The Grotto and Other Stories a collection of short stories.