Cancer to become country's No. 1 killer

A medical oncologist at Goldschmidt Cancer Center attributes the rise in cancer deaths to an aging population.

A new report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology states that in 16 years, cancer will overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Eston Schwartz, a medical oncologist at Capital Region Medical Center's Goldschmidt Cancer Center, attributes the findings mostly to one thing.

"Cancer is definitely driven by age. So the older you are the more likely you are to get cancer. So that number is going to keep going up with our aging population," Dr. Schwartz said.

With each diagnosis, the patients face a difficult and sometimes uncertain future.

"Chemotherapy is so expensive and you're going through a very difficult time in your life, and a difficult treatment and a lot of difficult decisions...and you don't want to have to worry about a very large co-pay. That should be the last thing you worry about, you need to worry about your treatment," Dr. Schwartz said.

When given the option between intravenous treatment and oral treatment in the form of a pill, Dr. Schwartz said more patients opt for the pill.

"Pills are easier for the patients to take, they can take it at home, they don't have to come to our office as often, and the side effects can be less," he said.

But current shortfalls with insurance coverage of the pills make them too expensive for many patients.

That soon could change.

The Missouri Legislature last week gave final approval to a bill that would prohibit insurance companies from charging patients more than $75 per 30 day supply of the oral treatment. This only applies to medications that are available in both the pill and IV form.

Sponsoring Representative Sheila Solon told KRCG 13 "This is one of the rare moments that everyone came together and did what was right for the people of Missouri and the people battling the terrible disease of cancer."

Solon added that giving patients access to treatment with generally fewer side effects allows them to miss less time at work, benefitting both the patient and the employer.

Missouri is the 29 state to pass such legislation.

The bill is awaiting final approval from Governor Jay Nixon.