Like other areas of health care, oncology is under pressure to control expenses while improving patient outcomes and the quality of care. Unlike many other areas of health care, however, oncology faces unique challenges that can make it especially difficult to control costs. Many cancer patients have a grim prognosis and are facing imminent death, so patients and professionals feel a sense of urgency to try every possible treatment in the hopes of at least prolonging life. Providers face pressure to apply the newest technologies and treatments--which are often among the most expensive--even when supporting evidence is incomplete or uncertain. Cancer treatments can be highly toxic or even life-threatening, and providers are often reluctant to switch from toxic treatments to palliative care, even at the end of life. These and other challenges can inhibit objective discussions about the value of oncology care.
On February 9-10, 2009, the National Cancer Policy Forum held a workshop to explore these issues from multiple perspectives, including those of patients and patient advocates, providers, insurers, health care researchers, federal agencies, and industry. Assessing and Improving the Value in Cancer Care summarizes workshop discussions and presentations, which focused the goal of describing value in oncology. Workshop participants sought to provide an objective concept of value to those faced with difficult decisions regarding developing, evaluating, prescribing, and paying for cancer care.