The Evidence Base

Informing Policy in Health, Economics & Well-Being
A collaboration with
USC Dornsife Center for economic and social research

Five Myths about Cancer Care in America

One of the most pervasive and misguided myths about cancer is that the ‘war on cancer’ has been a failure.    With provocative news headlines about cancer often popping up, it is understandable that there is public uncertainty about progress in its treatment and patient care.  Yet, survival rates have improved substantially: cancer patients and survivors are living longer, healthier, and happier lives.  In fact, compared to what has been spent on research and development in cancer care, the health benefit “suggests a substantial return on investment”  according to Schaeffer Center Director Dana Goldman and Tomas Philipson,  co-authors in “Five Myths About Cancer Care in America” published by Health Affairs.

Goldman and Philipson discuss five myths of cancer care in America.

It turns out editorials tend to reflect beliefs that arose years ago when the illnesses were not as well understood.   Goldman and Philipson highlight that the consequence of reinforcing these myths about cancer care draws the public’s attention away from the real story: the breakthroughs that have occurred in recent decades and the resulting value to survivors.

Take for instance the myth that cancer treatment at the end of life is of low value.  Goldman and Philipson argue that policy-makers use an analysis that assumes the value of a year of life doesn’t change, even though actual lives and individual preferences do.  Through personal stories and data, the authors show there is additional value in treatment that is not accounted for in end stages of a disease.  Importantly, the chance of survival, which is often highly valued by patients when deciding on therapy options, is not captured by the standard used to set policy on coverage decisions.

Goldman and Philipson provide insight into the damaging nature of these myths within the context of coverage policies: “we argue that coverage policies placing undue burden on patients are socially wasteful and will likely discourage further innovation.”