October marks National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, advancing the fight to combat one of the most common diseases among women. However, while great strides have been made in the fight against breast cancer, the same is not true for ovarian cancer. From 1998 to 2007, while breast cancer’s mortality rate decreased 2.2 percent, the mortality rate for ovarian cancer fell just 0.8 percent. In fact, mortality rates for ovarian cancer have hardly decreased since the “War on Cancer” was declared 40 years ago.
Over 15,000 women die of ovarian cancer each year, making it the most deadly of gynecologic cancers. Part of the reason mortality rates for ovarian cancer remain fairly static is because the disease is difficult to detect early, since there is nothing equivalent to a mammogram that helps doctors make an early diagnosis, and it is normally not discovered until it has become a real problem. As a result, less than 20 percent of patients are diagnosed when the disease is in an early stage.
Though nothing in President Obama’s landmark health reform law pertains specifically to ovarian cancer, parts of it could help turn some of these sobering statistics around:
- No lifetime caps on treatment. Since Obamacare removes lifetime limits for coverage, women no longer have to worry about their insurance cutting off coverage for their costly ovarian cancer treatments — which usually involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, clinical drug trials, and occasionally radiation. Ovarian cancer is the second-most expensive cancer to treat because specialists need to perform surgeries for it, many of the drugs used to combat it are “off-label” (meaning the treatment is not specifically approved by the FDA and insurers may not adequately reimburse patients), and 75 percent of women have a recurrence.
- Clinical trials covered by insurance. Coverage for clinical trials is especially important to women with ovarian cancer because most women have a recurrence and oftentimes develop resistance to initial therapies, making clinical trials more appealing. The largest barrier to participation in clinical studies is cost, and widening access to such trials will likely benefit ovarian cancer patients disproportionately.
- Increased coverage under the Medicaid program. Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid program will have a big impact on ovarian cancer patients. In most states, women with ovarian cancer are not eligible for Medicaid. However, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance estimates the expansion of Medicaid could provide coverage to 2,318 patients, which account for roughly 10 percent of the ovarian cancer population.
Though the Affordable Care Act has proved to be one of the most contentious political issues in recent years, few would disagree these provisions have the potential to vastly improve the way this country treats ovarian cancer. Because many of the law’s provisions will not implemented until 2014, its effects will not be seen for a few years, but the areas where Obamacare attempts to improve the delivery of healthcare could have a big impact on the areas where the treatment of ovarian cancer needs improvement. Politics aside, the future looks promising for ovarian cancer patients.
— Greg Noth