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Early screening for colon cancer can cut costs as well as save lives, according to a study published in the journal Gastroenterology this month.
A researcher from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has found that treatment costs are less expensive for colon cancer patients diagnosed through screening tests before they experience symptoms.
"There's lots of evidence that it saves lives," lead researcher Dr. Scott Ramsey said. "We wanted to make a business case for screening." Most major health insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover colon cancer screening for people over age 50, but few patients take advantage of the test.
Awareness is a key problem, Ramsey said. "It just doesn't have the profile that breast cancer screening has."
In addition, colon cancer screening programs can be expensive.
Researchers looked at 923 Group Health Cooperative patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1993 and 1999.
The average health care cost for patients whose cancer was detected through screening (206 people) was $24,636. For those whose symptoms led to a diagnosis (717 people), the cost -- for the three months before and one year after diagnosis -- was $31,128.
Patients used a screening method called fecal occult blood testing, which requires patients to collect a stool sample at home. The test detects traces of blood in the stool, which can indicate colon cancer.
Screening helped Group Health save about $1.4 million in the study period, according to the study.
Cancer drug settlement
Millions of dollars in unclaimed settlement money is still available for people who used the cancer drug Taxol or its generic equivalent, paclitaxel, from Jan. 1, 1999 through Feb. 28, 2003.
The drugs are commonly used to battle breast, ovarian, lung and other cancers.
Only a small percentage of those eligible for payment have filed claims for the $12.5 million awarded nationally for those who paid too much for the drugs. In March, the state attorney general's office settled a lawsuit against Bristol-Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of Taxol. State investigators found that Bristol-Myers overcharged its customers for the drug, which costs as much as $1,700 a dose. A standard course of treatment can cost between $6,000 and $10,000.
The deadline for filing claims has been extended to Jan. 31.
Taxol consumers are eligible to receive a rebate of up to $438 for each documented infusion. The settlement also provides free Taxol for low-income or uninsured patients.
For more information about submitting a claim, call 1-800-659-7609 or go to www.taxolsettlement.com.
Chewable birth control
A chewable, spearmint-flavored birth-control pill is now available for women who don't like to swallow pills. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration last month, the new version of Ovcon 35 contains a progestin and an estrogen found in products already on the market.
The risks of the chewable tablet, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, are similar to other birth control pills, including an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks and stroke.
Women who swallow the chewable must drink an 8-ounce glass of liquid immediately after to ensure no residue is left in the mouth.
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