Health Beat: Cancer care: A system in crisis?

Health Beat: Cancer care: A system in crisis?

LOS ANGELES - There are 14 million cancer survivors living in the United States. More than 1.6 million patients are diagnosed with cancer every year.

The cost of cancer care rose from $72 billion in 2004 to $125 billion in 2010. With skyrocketing costs and a doctor shortage, many say we are in a cancer crisis. Now, a new report is offering solutions to a system in trouble.   

Dikla Benzeevi has lived with stage IV breast cancer for 11 years and has been on different combinations of 11 different drugs.

"It's been a really difficult road. It's a roller coaster ride," said Benzeevi, who's had to navigate her way through a complicated health system. "I felt like different specialists weren't communicating with one another."

Dr. Patricisa Ganz, an oncologist at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, said we are in a cancer crisis.

"Cancer is so complicated because it's just not over when it's over," Ganz said.

By 2030, experts expect a 45 percent increase in the number of cancer patients, but a decrease in doctors.

In a recent Institute of Medicine report, Ganz said we can improve cancer care by training medical personnel to work as a team, stopping unnecessary tests and treatments, improving information technology, offering affordable care and informing patients about their treatment options.

"We need to explain those to patients, and they need to tell us honestly what they do and do not want to have done to them," Ganz said.

The report says patients should ask: What's my life expectancy? What is the likelihood of a cure? If I can't be cured, will I live longer with treatment? What are my options if I don't want treatment? Will the treatment make me feel better or worse?

As a patient, Benzeevi would like to see a coordinated care system.

"Meaning when we are diagnosed, there is a team working with us, for us," Benzeevi said.

Benzeevi's care runs about $200,000 per year. She has insurance, but still pays about $6,000 to $7,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

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