A cancer-free future is getting closer every day. Medical innovation has more than doubled the number of cancer survivors since 1990 from 6 million to 13 million. New cancer treatments have given 50 million years of additional life to patients diagnosed with the disease.
The value of those additional years is about $5 trillion. And the cost? Less than 1 percent of what America spends on health care each year.
Yet a group of oncologists is attacking these innovations as too expensive, even "unjustly" priced.
The recipients of those 50 million years of life may beg to differ. I should know -- I'm one of them.
Innovative cancer therapies have delivered value that far exceeds their price tags and stand out as among the most effective weapons in the battle against cancer.
An article written earlier this year for the influential medical journal Blood claimed that prices for cancer drugs are lower in other countries -- and that people elsewhere even get them for free.
It stands to reason, then, that if the United States adopted the foreign model of delivering health care -- with government calling all the shots -- all Americans would have improved access to these cancer drugs and thus live longer lives.
The reality abroad is far different. In most developed countries, patients have to cover up to 20 percent of their health care costs. For new medicines -- like the cancer drugs that have kept me alive -- the share for which patients are responsible is even greater.
More importantly, these countries delay access to new medicines -- or even deny it outright. Government officials often decide that high prices for innovative new medicines are "unjust" -- so nobody gets them.
Americans, by contrast, have access to new cancer therapies up to three years sooner than patients abroad. It's no coincidence that death rates from all cancers are declining 30 percent faster in the United States than in Europe and elsewhere.
Consider chronic myelogenous leukemia. The survival rate for this form of blood cancer in America has doubled since 2001. The death rate has been cut in half.
In Britain, by contrast, CML death and survival rates have not budged. The difference? Targeted therapies like Gleevec have been made immediately available in America to more patients. Americans had access to Gleevec by 2001. Britons couldn't get it until 2003 -- and even then, only a limited group of patients could do so.
In fact, if I were a Briton, I probably would not be alive today. The country's National Health Service did not approve use of the cancer drug I'm on until three years after my diagnosis.
Saying "no" to drugs with "unjust" prices may have saved our health care system a few billion dollars over the past decade. But such savings would have come at the expense of millions of people with HIV/AIDS, rare childhood diseases and cancer, who otherwise would have died.
The American health care system certainly can stand to improve the ability of patients to access high-priced drugs. But the solution to that problem is not to forego them entirely.
Instead insurers must recognize the value that innovative drugs deliver for patients and the economy -- and cover their cost fully. The cutting-edge therapies of today save money in the long run by keeping people out of the hospital and by preventing diseases from developing into acute health emergencies.
Further, federal regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must speed up the review process for new medicines. Once a new cancer drug is known to work in specific patients, it should hit the market. Patients shouldn't have to wait years to access drugs that could save their lives.
By focusing narrowly on the price of innovative cancer therapies, dissenting oncologists end up championing regulations that reduce the pace of medical progress and drive up the cost of the last-generation drugs that remain.
Such rules grant government officials the power to determine the price of a human life -- en route to deciding who lives and who dies. That doesn't seem very "just." Or very smart.
Bob Tufts is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at New York University and a former major-league pitcher for the Giants and the Kansas City Royals.