Expensive prostate cancer drug now covered by Medicare

Jul 26, 2011

Prostate vaccine will be paid for by Medicare

A newly approved and expensive prostate cancer vaccine, Provenge, will be covered by Medicare for men with metastatic prostate cancer. The drug costs $93,000 per patient and may extend an individual's life by four months on average, possibly lowering the number of life insurance claims.

"We are optimistic that innovative strategies may improve the experience of care for our beneficiaries who have cancer," Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said.

While this is a positive sign for men with prostate cancer, the vaccine has not been shown to help patients with cancer that has spread any further. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the drug extended the lives of men with metastatic tumors resistant to standard hormonal treatment, compared with no treatment. The vaccine has also been found to have less toxicity than chemotherapy.

Provenge is made from the patient's white blood cells, which are treated with the drug and then placed back into their blood stream. These cells trigger an immune response that kills cancer cells in the patient.  

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