My friend and fellow lung cancer patient Dann Wonser recently blogged an update about his treatment status. In it, he shared how he made his decision about whether to stay in his targeted therapy clinical trial after the drug received FDA approval. It’s a worthwhile discussion–an increasing number of cancer patients will face such decisions as more targeted therapies are approved–so I asked his permission to share it on my blog. The entire text is listed below.
published December 17, 2015 by
Friends and Family,
After our usual pre-scan hyper-sensitivity to every indigestion burp, cough, or body ache, I kicked my anxiety into overdrive by getting a cold/flu. It gave me all the symptoms of lung cancer gone rampant: Difficulty breathing, heavy chest, cough, feeling not so great. Then we flew to San Diego, where Dr. Patel gave us the good news: No new growth! We’re celebrating!!! We are now a couple of months past the average time that Tagrisso usually remains effective, which leaves me even more grateful. I have another six weeks of sweet life, and have bought another six weeks of time for the next new drugs to be developed before I need them. Clinical researchers out there, you are my heroes! Keep up the great work!
A couple weeks ago I asked what you would do if you had the choice of ending the clinical trial, but continuing to get the same medication in my home town. I thought I had probably covered the major topics pretty well, but found that there was much more to consider after listening to your thoughts. Thank you for contacting me through every means imaginable to share your thoughtful contributions! If you just want to know what I decided, skip straight to the bottom of this email. If all the facets of this decision fascinated you as much as they have me, keep reading and I’ll share what I learned from you.
First, Tagrisso is so new that the insurance company may not cover it, or may not have a contract with a pharmacy that carries it. They may also have a much higher co-pay for a new drug. This could critical, since the reported cost is $425 per pill. That’s right: $425 per day. I am very fortunate to have an insurance plan that has a maximum out-of-pocket expense. I usually meet that annual maximum out-of-pocket around January 7th, 🙂 and then I’m covered 100% for the year.
But what about those who do not have such great coverage? Fortunately, Astra Zeneca has a patient assistance program. See http://www.astrazeneca-us.com/medicines/help-affording-your-medicines/ if you are in this boat. I believe other drug companies have similar programs… Worth checking out.
Several people told me they would get out of the clinical trial as soon as possible, to cut radiation exposure in half, by having half as many CT scans. Ashley, my clinical trial coordinator, petitioned the study sponsor to decrease the scan frequency for everyone. I’m impressed, and very grateful! Thank you, Ashley! Hey, I know it’s a long shot, but I appreciate the advocacy!
A friend and fellow blogger, Linnea Olson, actually contacted her study sponsor herself. Way to be your own advocate, Linnea!
But how much radiation is too much? Fortunately, I know someone who has spent years measuring radiation levels in workers at a nuclear-related facility. She can’t give an accurate response without knowing the radiation dose levels of the CT scans, but her best estimate is that the dose is still less than the daily level of radiation considered safe for workers in the nuclear industry. I don’t know whether that makes me feel relieved, or worried for the nuclear workers. All the same, it would be helpful to get dose info from a radiologist who does CT scans. I’ll work on it.
Several people mentioned the advantages of staying close to clinical researchers who are on the cutting edge of treatment. How could I replace that?
The length of the clinical trial was questioned. Dr. Patel has no idea how much longer the trial will continue. However, I have the choice of exiting the trial at any point.
Several of you mentioned the importance of contributing to research that affects the lives of so many. More data will help guide more research, and benefit more people.
The travel expense is not the biggest issue, but one that seemed reasonable for the drug company to cover at this point. The cost is roughly the equivalent to the price of one pill ($425) every six weeks. UCSD told me that they never go back to the sponsor to ask for travel assistance. So…. I bypassed the system! I have my own Astra Zeneca connections, so I made my own request. We all have to be our own advocates.
I asked Genevieve how this impacts her, since she makes every trip with me. She dismissed the question as trivial and irrelevant. That says a lot about love, doesn’t it? She’s a keeper!
One friend, Joe, had a more noble take. He said that it’s good to stay with the girl that brought you to the dance, and make sure she gets home safe. In other words, since this clinical trial saved my life, perhaps loyalty should be a consideration.
Thank you all for making me consider so much more, and in so much more depth. It makes me feel more comfortable with my decision… to stay with the clinical trial. You helped me crystalize that my biggest concern was the radiation, which I feel a little better about now. You also helped me to decide just how important it is to contribute to the research, and to realize that the most important factor for me is sticking close to Dr. Sandip Patel. He is the most cutting-edge oncologist that I know about for my situation, and I have direct access to him. That is irreplaceable.
Wishing you happy holidays, and decisions you can live with.