Big Pharma and Big Prices: Elephant in the Room

One thing all alternative cancer treatments have in common: They are not a product of Big Pharma. Conventional care – chemo, radiation, and surgery – are money-makers for Big Pharma, generating billions in profits for pharmaceutical companies.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, there are approximately 439 new cases of cancer per 100,000 individuals each year in the United States. That leaves a lot of wiggle room for pharma – manufacturers, physicians, regulators, and yes, even politicians – to work its way into cancer patients’ everyday lives.

Stockton University’s Robert Blaskiewicz notes that “secrecy and ignorance beget conspiracy theories; they are best combated by education and transparency.” This is true. But those who promote alternative cancer modalities are at a severe disadvantage. They do not have the deep pockets to sustain information campaigns.

In 2005, at least 27.3% of surveyed Americans believed in the myth of a hidden cancer cure. It should be no surprise that in 2018, nearly four in 10 Americans (39%) believed cancer can be cured solely through alternative therapies such as enzyme and oxygen therapy, diet, vitamins, and minerals.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)’s second annual National Cancer Opinion Survey, conducted in 2018, showed that many with direct cancer experience – people who have or had cancer and family caregivers – believe cancer can be cured solely through alternative medicine (22% and 38% respectively). The survey also found that younger people – 47% of people ages 18-37 and 44% of people ages 38-53 – are the most likely to hold these views. (2)

“This survey serves as a barometer of the American people’s views on important cancer-related issues,” said ASCO President Dr. Monica Bertagnolli. “It’s revealed a number of critical areas we urgently need to address – from correcting widespread misinformation about cancer treatments to ensuring patients have access to the pain medication they need, to alleviating the financial distress both patients and their loved ones experience too frequently.”

Cancer is to blame for 9.6 million deaths last year, making it the second-leading killer globally, according to the World Health Organization. To that end, Big Pharma is spending big bucks to try to … well, make a buck selling what some seek as a “cure.” To wit, about 3,900 immune-oncology treatments are now in different stages of testing as companies pan for new products.

Diabetes drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. shelled out $8 billion to buy Loxo Oncology last year. To expand its global presence in cancer, Eli Lilly & Co. hiring Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s David Hyman as chief medical officer of a reorganized oncology division.

Specializing in asthma and HIV therapies, GlaxoSmithKline has been the U.K.’s biggest health company by revenue for decades. It paid about $5.1 billion for Tesaro, the maker of promising cancer medicine called Zejula. An oncology partnership with Germany’s Merck KGaA, worth as much as $4.2 billion, followed.

Only about 1 in 20 cancer patients participate in trials of experimental therapies. Proving that a drug works can take time (and money), and failure against one type of cancer doesn’t mean treatment won’t work in another.

“There’s no question that evidence-based cancer therapy is necessary to effectively treat the disease,” said Dr. Richard L. Schilsky, ASCO Chief Medical Officer. “The vast majority of alternative therapies either haven’t been rigorously studied or haven’t been found to benefit patients. When patients are making critical decisions about which cancer treatments to undergo, it is always best to follow the evidence from well-designed research studies.”

Cancer treatment – alternative or conventional – carry a cost. Research shows a tangible association between “financial toxicity” and short-term health outcomes, including depression and anxiety, suicide, impaired cardiovascular function, and substance abuse. However, there are options to cover the cost of treatment. assists and helps patients financially manage their cancer care. will evaluate an existing life insurance policy to possibly convert it into much-needed cash to pay for cancer treatment. Regardless of which treatment you choose, having the financial means to fight cancer is vital.



(1) The Big Pharma conspiracy theory.

(2) National Survey Reveals Surprising Number of Americans Believe Alternative Therapies Can Cure Cancer.

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