Is There An Economic Incentive to Cure Cancer?

I must interject. The short answer is an emphatic NO!

This writer remembers the days of Polio well. My mom made me stay away from large groups of kids. This was mostly in the summer and  where possible like a swimming pool or movie theaters. Then one day in 1953 Dr. Jonas Salk announced he has successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the crippling disease of polio. That information arrived like a bombshell and  in less than a year the first vaccinations were being administered to children.

Well that was back in the 50’s often spoken of as an innocent time. That was the era of nylon stockings, during which I remember inquiring of my mom, “why didn’t they make stockings that didn’t run?”  I received a simple answer. ”The companies wouldn’t make any money if they did, and even at twice the price.” Ah ha, my first lesson in economics at age eleven. “I suppose that goes for shoe laces too” I thought.

Jump ahead to 2017. I happened upon a story about a firehouse that had a light bulb burning since installing in 1901. Needless to say, those early bulbs burned forever. Initial sales were spectacular but eventually slowed to the point where bulb companies were going out of business. As a result there took place on December of 1923 in Geneva Switzerland a meeting of surviving light bulb manufactures (Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric, etc). The purpose; to establish “built in obsolesces” as  defined as, designing a product with an artificially limited useful life. 

So back to cancer. It is this writer’s belief there is a similar un-written fiat in the cancer industry, especially pharmaceuticals. Why cure cancer especially when perpetual (high profit) treatments will suffice? In the  cancer victim’s article that follows, imagine the loss of revenue in the listed industrial areas if a sudden cancer cure, like that of polio, were to be made available. I chose the words “made available” as I do believe it exists. 

This article was written pre COVID-19.. You will no doubt see parallels regarding big Pharma in Linda’s article. - W.W.

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by Linda Zercoe - RIP

Let me begin by saying that as a Cancerian I'm grateful for all of the dedicated professionals and other people employed by The Nation of Cancer. Obviously, I am alive, thanks in large measure to their work!

I've spent twenty years being on the front line of the war called Cancer. Every year I see multiple doctors, had multiple tests, bi-yearly scans and more. During this time I also had close to 20 surgeries. There hasn't been a year in two decades, where I haven't ‘maxed' out my out-of-pocket expenses and I have GREAT health care insurance. If I didn't have great insurance, well, almost certainly, I would have long been dead.

In spite of having GREAT insurance, the total health care billed each year ranged between $10,000 before insurance adjustments to well over $500,000 in some years. Even with the great insurance, my out-of-pocket expenses (not including alternative treatments, supplements, therapists, and other assorted necessities) have been in the thousands of dollars per year. And I am just one person.

In The Nation of Cancer there is plenty of money to be made in service to its citizenry. And for now that may be a good thing. Even though in the developed countries of the world, the yearly mortality rates from cancer are decreasing due to awareness campaigns, early detection and treatment, the incidence of cancer worldwide is increasing, and is now the leading cause of death.

Under the current model, this is good for business! This model has each individual as a potential annuity stream of income for follow-up care as well as for the possibilities of recurrence and/or secondary cancer diagnoses. Since this model focuses on early detection and ‘awareness', if it turns out that that the cancer is detected when it is too late, our society will pull out all stops and spend a great deal of money to possibly extend life that is measured in months not years. Again this is good for business!

The Industry of Cancer

Everyone needs to make money, right? There is HUGE money to be made in The Nation of Cancer. Unfortunately while in the service of ‘treating' cancer rather than curing cancer, why would the players in this industry want there to be a cure?

The Pharmaceutical Industry

This should be obvious. If there is a cure for cancer, say a vaccine, well that would be the end of this cash flow stream. Obviously it is better to develop and market a drug that is deemed ‘chemotherapeutic' for use in either adjuvant or palliative settings. It is interesting that now there is a chemotherapy shortage, driving up the prices for these desperately needed drugs. I would venture to guess that this is replicated from the scarcity model successfully employed by the oil industry.

There is a new class of drugs that don't cure cancer but treat it, going right to the source (but not beyond) like Herceptin for HER-2 positive breast cancers or Gleevac (in US) and Glivac (internationally) used to treat Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). It is interesting to me it costs up to $100,000 to take Gleevac for a year and people diagnosed with CML need to take this every year for the rest of their life. Not surprisingly, the cost has risen markedly since its introduction in 2001, inspiring a recent outcry from researchers and physicians.

So again I ask, is there any reason why the pharmaceutical industry would want to find the magic bullet drug? Or is it about money first and jobs second, a low second.

Medical Equipment and Device Manufacturers and Suppliers

What would the world look like if we required billons less intravenous supplies, ostomy bags, Jackson-Pratt drains? What would the world look like with many fewer applications for use of the DaVinci robot and surgical supplies? There would be less manufacturing jobs, warehouses, distributors, research and development, training, marketing, let alone all the jobs accounting for this equipment every step of the way. What other amazing things could these people then do?

Health Care Providers

I have no idea worldwide how many millions of people have professional careers or serve The Nation of Cancer in some way.

Hospitals – What would their admission statistics and payrolls look like if cancer was cured? How many nurses and ancillary staff would then be required for hospitalizations not related to cancer?

Radiology– What would happen to the specialized and ancillary personnel and the expensive equipment necessary if we no longer needed to screen for cancer or treat it?

Oncology – If cancer was cured, well, you get the point. Although I believe this group of professional doctors, researchers and nurses do have the best interest of The Nation of Cancer at heart. They want nothing more or less than a cure.

The Insurance Industry

In the U.S., the insurance industry very simplistically makes money from premiums on policies sold to individuals and from the difference between what they collect and what they negotiate to pay to a provider of services. People will still need insurance, but a slice of the profits, and I would say a large one would go away if there were a cure for cancer. With respect to Medicare and Medicaid, imagine freeing up all those dollars used for cancer screening and treatment and putting it to some other use. What implications would that have on the future debt of nations?

The Global Economic Cost of Cancer

Although I took two semesters of classes in economics in college, I am hardly an economist. I wonder how curing cancer would effect the world economy? According to a report commissioned in 2010 by The American Cancer Society and the Live Strong Foundation:

"The total economic impact of premature death and disability from cancer worldwide was $895 billion in 2008. This figure represents 1.5 percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP). This economic toll from cancer is nearly 19 percent higher than heart disease, the second leading cause of economic loss ($895 billion and $753 billion, respectively). This analysis did not include direct medical costs, which would further increase the total economic cost caused by cancer."