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A new tool to help doctors, patients weigh cancer drugs' value

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How can someone diagnosed with cancer decide which treatment is right for him? An initiative from 26 leading cancer centers aims to provide doctors and patients with a new way to evaluate the efficacy of different treatments - including an assessment of cost. 

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network – which includes facilities like the City of Hope Comprehensive Care Center in Los Angeles and the Stanford Cancer Institute in Stanford, Calif., - unveiled the tool Friday. Its new Evidence Blocks are a graphic measurement of five factors that providers and patients can consider when weighing different treatment options.

The Evidence Blocks score different treatments on their effectiveness and safety, as well as the quality and quantity of evidence supporting them. The final factor they evaluate, affordability, is not typically considered when doctors and patients discuss treatment. This measurement is an estimate of the overall total cost of a therapy, including acquisition, administration, toxicity monitoring and hospitalization.

Patients and providers can use this clinical and economic information to make treatment decisions based on their own values, Dr. Robert Carlson, chief executive office of the cancer network, said in a statement.

"Some patients will want an emerging therapy even with limited data; others will be most concerned about the expected side effects of the treatment indicated in the safety column," Carlson said. "By considering the attributes of the range of possible therapies, the health care provider and patient can discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each option and come to a decision most acceptable to the patient."

The cancer network has released its initiative in the midst of growing concerns about the skyrocketing costs of cancer treatments. Last year, every new cancer drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration was priced above $120,000 per year of use.

FAQ: Why are cancer drugs getting more expensive?

Those costs are trickling down to patients, who are responsible for a larger share of these bills, due to rising deductibles and copays. Another organization – the American Society of Clinical Oncology – developed its own framework to assess the value of new cancer treatments.

The National Comprehensive Care Network published the Evidence Blocks within new clinical practice guidelines for two types of cancer, chronic myelogenous leukemia and multiple myeloma. The network expects to include the framework in its guidelines for breast, colon, non-small cell lung and rectal cancers by the end of the year, and incorporate it into its complete library of guidelines by the end of 2016.