Why should cancer patients struggle financially, despite their major contributions to cancer care? Why should families undergo economic distress while caring for the front-line soldiers of the cancer battle?

Although progress is very encouraging, cancer will remain one the leading causes of death in developed countries. We know how to prevent some types of cancer and we can cure many early-stage cancers. However, we still cannot defeat most advanced cancers, just extending survival by mere months or a few years.

A human right

The World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution of 1946 declared that the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including medical care and necessary social services.”

Translating this set of rights into cancer care, every human being should be able to access key discoveries on prevention, early detection, and management of cancer. If this is a war, we need to have commanders and soldiers united with a single purpose, coordinating efforts and supporting each other.

An economic right

The costs of cancer care are staggering. When several procedures and expensive cancer treatments are required in a short period of time, financial hardship or medical bankruptcy are all-too-frequently the result.

Cancer patients should be fairly compensated for becoming the center of the so-called digital health revolution. Combining electronic medical records, genomics, and demographic data makes every single patient a formidable source of scientific and medical knowledge. As the most vulnerable and least organized group, the society should recognize and reward financially contributions of cancer patients.

A healthcare right

Progress in cancer care would not take place without patients participating in clinical trials and cancer registries, potentially sacrificing their lives or enduring serious adverse events. Data sharing, integration and collaboration requires trust and better communication, as well as a legislative framework to define the healthcare rights and duties of every stakeholder.

Cancer is not just a disease. It is a plague that can cripple individuals, families, and social networks. Not confronting the disease at its core, the cancer patient, will lead over time to a more fragile society.

What would go through you mind if you were told today that you had leukemia with a 2-year life expectancy? Wouldn’t you consider the impact of work disability, family care, maxed-out insurance deductibles, and significant out-of-pocket costs? Wouldn’t you feel at ease if you and your family were promised a financial safety net in exchange for your contribution to the advance of medical and scientific knowledge?

A Cancer Care Act would be a fair act of human solidarity.

Oscar Segurado, MD, PhD, Director of Medic Affairs Consulting LLC, has extensive global experience covering oncology, immunology and molecular biology in academia and industry settings.


This is an excerpt of an article originally published in The Hill on May 10, 2017

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