Colorectal cancer treatment effective, but too expensive

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 2

Researchers recently found that a form of target therapy can extend the lives of colorectal cancer patients by as much as 30 percent, but only if patients can manage to pay the huge price tag that comes with it, doctors said.

The study showed that patients with metastatic colorectal cancer (meaning the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body), who were given angiogenesis inhibitors, could extend their lives by an average of 31.8 months, which is a 30 percent extension.

The treatment is a form of target therapy, which has become a trend in cancer treatment because of its effectiveness and minimized side effects.

In target therapy, chemotherapy targets the molecules that feed tumor growth and allows tumors to spread.

That not only prevents cancer recurrence, but also decreases side effects.

However, because target therapy is very expensive, it is rarely affordable by all but the wealthy.

Angiogenesis inhibitor treatment requires a patient to receive two shots each month, costing NT$120,000 each month, or NT$1.44 million a year, said Wang Huann-sheng (王煥昇), a colon and rectal surgeon at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

“In the economic downturn, not many patients can afford the drug as soon as diagnosis has been confirmed,” Wang said.

Department of Health statistics showed that more than 4,000 people die of colorectal cancer each year in Taiwan, making it the third most common form of cancer in the nation.

Every year, 1,500 people in Taiwan are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but because available forms of treatment are not very effective, a patient’s average life expectancy is only two more years, Wang said.

“The treatment puts patients and their families in a dilemma, because it is really too expensive,” he said.