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Targeted Treatments Could Provide Answers for Cancer Patients

Cancer touches people from all walks of life. But, too often, cutting-edge cancer treatments aren’t accessible to everyone equally.

A Precursor to Targeted Treatment

For some cancers, biomarker testing is the key to determining the best course of treatment. But for some patients, getting the biomarker testing that is necessary for developing a targeted treatment plan can be a challenge.

Biomarker testing looks for abnormal genes or proteins that can provide information about cancer. It’s also called tumor profiling and it’s used to develop a patient-centered treatment plan using therapies that have been proven effective at targeting specific biomarkers.

Cancer patients who receive targeted therapy following biomarker testing can live longer. For example, a 2017 study compared outcomes of patients with non-small-cell lung cancer treated with targeted therapies against those of patients treated with traditional chemotherapy. The patients who received targeted therapy lived an average of 1.4 years longer.

Limited Access to Testing

Several factors influence whether patients receive biomarker testing.

Many biomarker tests also detect conditions that don’t have existing therapies. This makes insurance companies reluctant to cover the cost of testing. These “broad-spectrum tests” are important, however, because in addition to identifying biomarkers with treatments, they also inform the direction of future research.

There are also racial, age and economic disparities to accessing biomarker testing.

Patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer who are Black, older or Medicaid-insured were less likely to get biomarker testing than patients who were white, younger or commercially insured, according to research. Less access to testing has the potential to exacerbate existing disparities in cancer survival.

Policy Solutions

Improving policy can improve patients’ access to both biomarker testing and the targeted treatment that comes after it.

California, Illinois and Louisiana are leading the nation in expanding access. All three states enacted laws in 2021 requiring insurers to cover biomarker testing. This year, another dozen states are considering legislation that will remove obstacles to biomarker testing.

Targeted therapies work, but only if patients have access to them. By making biomarker testing more readily available, policymakers can improve cancer outcomes.

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