CHICAGO (CBS) — One of the standard medications to treat prostate cancer can cost $10,000 a month, but now researchers in Chicago have come up with a creative way to get a maximum benefit from the drug by combining a lower dose with food.
The result? Patients did well and they cut costs by 75%.
Robert Johnson found out last year that he had stage 4 prostate cancer.
“I didn’t want to go through my life savings to have the medicine. It is very expensive,” he said.
He and his partner Tencha McKinsey decided on a newer approach to treatment. He went to see University of Chicago oncologist Dr. Russell Szmulewitz, who recently conducted a study that used a new method for Zytiga, an expensive prostate cancer drug.
“Instead of having to take four of them, you only take one,” he said. “Its availability within the bloodstream is increased if it’s taken with food.”
The study published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology had 72 patients; half took one pill with a low fat breakfast, the other half took four pills on an empty stomach.
Szmulewitz said results for both groups were similar.
“So both patients had their tumors respond to the same extent; whether they were taking one pill with food, or four pills fasting,” he said.
Taking just one pill a day with breakfast has meant a huge 75% savings for Johnson. Four pills a day could easily have cost him as much as $20,000 a year out of pocket, even with his insurance. Instead, he has paid a quarter of that.
“It totals out to about $5,000 a year,” he said.
That’s still a lot of money, but Szmulewitz said the study points to how we can, with more research, reduce the cost of expensive medications.
“Our medical system can’t survive as it is with the cost of care going forward,” he warned.
Johnson feels lucky to have found this lower dose treatment. Besides the savings, it has meant fewer side effects.
“I was wondering if it was going to work or not. I am confident with it now,” he said.
His partner also feels confident.
“He feels good. His tests are coming back positive. All his tests are coming back good,” McKinsey said.
Szmulewitz’s study was small and should be repeated in a larger trial. He and other cancer specialists believe that, to reduce the huge cost of cancer care, more independent research is needed, funded by philanthropy and grants, so doctors can discover less expensive and more efficient ways to use the drugs available.