Is there a bias against prostate cancer?

August 1, 2011

The media seems to be more interested in highlighting the cost of new prostate cancer medications than the important progress made in treating the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

The cost of developing new cancer treatments is indeed staggering. It took 15 years of research at a cost of $1 billion to bring sipuleucel-T (Provenge) to market, according to its manufacturer.

The expense of new therapies is not only problematic for prostate cancer. The newest classes of drugs for breast, lung, and colon cancer can cost up to $10,000 per month and require long-term use. These higher costs seem to be more accepted for treatment of cancer than other illnesses. Yet terms like "costly" and "pricey" are used routinely when discussing prostate cancer drugs, even though other cancer treatments may be just as expensive in terms of months of life gained. Across the entire health care enterprise, work must be done to reduce the escalating costs of bringing to market more effective treatments for all diseases.

Prostate cancer is often portrayed as an unimportant disease of the elderly male that is fraught with problems of over-diagnosis and over-treatment. The public may now also have the impression that treating prostate cancer is costly and perhaps unaffordable. This apparent bias against prostate cancer is troubling news, especially for the families of the nearly 34,000 men who will die from the disease this year.

Dr. Gomella, a member of the Urology Times Editorial Council, is chairman of the department of urology and associate director of clinical affairs, Jefferson Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.