Thursday, November 16, 2017

Just Because We Can, Doesn't Mean We Should, And Who Pays For It

Back when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I first learned about the OncotypeDx genomic test for women with breast cancer. Of course I was not eligible for it. I can't remember why - whether it was because it wasn't my first cancer, or I had a single tiny positive node.

I am never eligible for anything because my health is too complicated to be eligible for anything. I have way too many ailments, previous or current treatments, or something. But I digress.

I watched all these other women get the tests to find out their risk of recurrence. Over the years, genomic testing has expanded from the OncotypeDx test to include a group of available tests. Which I was never eligible for....

These tests can provide helpful information. However, would everyone diagnosed with breast cancer benefit from these tests? Would the benefit of these tests outweigh the costs of them? Insurance companies never want to pay for more testing, even when it might show that a patient can have less treatment in the long run. And we cannot forget the additional stress on the patient for more testing.

A group of oncologists met at the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium and had a moderated discussion about which breast cancer patients should have genomic test. The result of this discussion was:

"...that not every patient needs to undergo genomic testing.

He gave an example of how, traditionally, older women unfit for chemotherapy do not undergo genetic tests. “I think that this can really apply to any age, 3 cm or below, node-negative disease,” he said. Additionally, low-risk patients — possibly 20% to 30% of patients — most likely do not need to be tested, according to Brufsky.

“You really have to choose,” he said. “I think the payer’s like that, the patient’s like that, and I think we’re a little hesitant sometimes to say to [our patients], ‘Listen, you have a tumor that’s just going to do great, no matter what we do, and you don’t need to be genomically tested.’”"

Just because we can offer these tests, doesn't mean we should test every patient. Even without pushback from insurance companies on costs, more testing is never always beneficial for patients. Or for their emotions and wallets.

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