Cancer patients upset they’re not told of drugs cost


Sydney : Oncologists upset cancer patients by not telling them about the steep cost of drugs and treatment.

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This fact surfaced in a survey of breast cancer patients when they were sounded about their views on high cost of medication.

Fran Boyle, associate professor at University of Sydney, said research showed that up to 40 percent oncologists would hesitate to inform a patient of a drug which might cost up to $1,000 (Australian) a week if it were not subsidised on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS), out of concern about adding to the distress of patients facing a life threatening illness.

“Oncologists believe they are protecting vulnerable patients by not telling them about high cost drugs they believe they can’t afford; however our research indicates that cancer patients want to know,” Boyle said.

“Almost all the women we surveyed (96 percent) said they wanted to be informed about high cost drugs, whether or not they could afford them,” he informed.

Boyle said 89 percent of those surveyed felt comfortable discussing finances with their oncologist. Typical of comments were that they had discussed “much worse” and their preference was for an “honest, direct approach”.

“More high cost drugs are coming to market and even those accepted on the PBS can take years to get approval,” Boyle said. “If a treatment is available, patients often need it at the time and can’t wait for PBS listing, so there is an obligation on the oncologist to inform them.”

The research, undertaken by University of Sydney medical student Emily Kaser, in collaboration with the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA), also found many women were unsure of the PBS approval process and that many considered a drug costing over $50 a week high cost, according to an Oncological Society release.

BCNA CEO Lyn Swinburne said good communication was critical. “We empathise with oncologists who find it hard to have the conversation; however the patients have spoken loud and clear,” she said.

The research was presented at the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting Tuesday.