Figuring out which cancer treatments work

Aug 6, 2012

Seattle’s a hub for cancer research, and usually that means scientists are looking for cures or new treatments. Now a new project will try to tell us if those treatments are worth the price-tag.

If you were diagnosed with any common cancer – such as breast, colon, prostate – you’d find there are a lot of potential treatments. Dr. Scott Ramsey at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center says the next step isn’t clear:

"How would you know where to go? Who the best doctors are? Who has the most experience with the cancer that you have? What are the choices for the treatments that you have, and what would the costs to you be for that treatment? 

"I'm doing this research, and I couldn’t find that information."

Ramsey’s research is all about figuring out which treatments are most effective. He searches in databases from doctors and insurance companies. And he’s found repeatedly that certain treatments tend to work better – but not all cancer doctors stick with what’s proven.

“We would like to identify why that’s happening and if its happening inappropriately, find ways to change that.”

The project is supposed to help patients – and fight the scary expense of cancer treatment. For example, Ramsey says a typical colon cancer chemotherapy has gone up from $40,000 to $250,000 … in just the last five years.

That’s leaving cancer patients in extreme financial hardship. He admits some fellow researchers and drug companies might see this as threatening … but he’s counting on cooperation from local doctors and insurers to make this first-in-the nation program work.