Memorial Sloan Kettering Doctors’ Stance on the High Cost of Cancer Drugs Featured on 60 Minutes

Pictured: Leonard Saltz & Peter Bach

Medical Oncologist Leonard Saltz and Epidemiologist Peter Bach

On the October 5 edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes, Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians Peter Bach and Leonard Saltz discussed the unsustainable rise in the cost of cancer drugs with correspondent Lesley Stahl. Dr. Bach, who directs MSK’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes, and Dr. Saltz, Chief of the Gastrointestinal Service, induced a national debate in 2012 when they published an op-ed in the New York Times detailing MSK’s refusal to include a new colorectal cancer drug on the hospital’s formulary because of its high cost.

The drug, Zaltrap®, proved to be no more effective in large clinical studies than a drug already in use — but it was more than twice the cost.

“A cancer diagnosis is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy,” Dr. Saltz said in the 60 Minutes piece. Dr. Bach added that “we need to take into account the financial consequences of the decisions that we make for our patients” as each new cancer drug that comes to market costs more than the last, and the burden of that cost is borne increasingly by patients.

The Leukemia Example

But doctors are voicing concerns for their patients and the “financial toxicity” of some treatments. As 60 Minutes noted, leukemia expert Hagop Kantarjian of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was inspired by MSK’s Zaltrap decision to enlist more than 100 of the world’s leading leukemia specialists to co-sign an opinion article in the journal Blood addressing the high price of drugs that treat the disease.

An example is Gleevec®, which has been a game changer for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia but must be taken indefinitely. The cost of Gleevec has tripled since its approval even though other versions of the drug have been brought to market.

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Uncontrolled Pricing

In effect, experts say, the cost of cancer drugs continues to rise exponentially for blockbusters as well as new compounds that add only incremental benefit to drugs already in use.

When asked where to draw the line between how long a drug extends life and how much it costs, Dr. Saltz responded, “We as a society have been unwilling to discuss this topic and, as a result, the only people who are setting the line are the people who are selling the drugs.”

Watch the 60 Minutes segment in its entirety and read a new opinion piece published by Dr. Bach in the Journal of the American Medical Association on October 3.

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Commenting is disabled for this blog post.

I saw this and was amazed and then again, not amazed, by the information
on costs. It was interesting and well-presented and I send my thanks.

This country's pharmaceutical industry is beyond belief and the only
thing of importance appears to be a company's 'bottom line.' How
very sad.

Thank you for your clear and honest report. MKS

It's all true I go to MSKCC and only get seen in pain clncil it's sad cause I've been feeling really sick like when I first had cancer, I have HMO with Medicad I need a referl from my Dr!? What Dr I have only been seen for the past 12+yrs at MSKCC it's sad that only the Rich people get the best treatment!!!!

Angie, thank you for reaching out. Our Patient Representatives are committed to ensuring that your rights are respected and that your concerns are addressed. We have sent them your concern, and you can contact them directly at 212-639-7202 to discuss this in more detail.

For questions about insurance, you can also call 646-497-9176 to speak with one of our Insurance Specialists.

In addition, Memorial Sloan Kettering provides financial help to patients in need. If you do not have health insurance or are worried that your health insurance may not cover your hospital bill in full, we may be able to help.

You can contact Patient Financial Services at 212-639-3810 and find out more information at:…

I was informed on November 5th 2013 that my insurance lapsed in September of 2013. I continued ny treatment not knowing my coverage had lapsed. I now have medical judgements against me. Just another fun thing to worry about. Ugh

Noemi, thank you for your comment. If you are a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering, you can contact our Patient Representatives directly at 212-639-7202 to discuss this in more detail.

For questions about insurance, you can also call 646-497-9176 to speak with one of our Insurance Specialists.

In addition, Memorial Sloan Kettering provides financial help to patients in need. If you do not have health insurance or are worried that your health insurance may not cover your hospital bill in full, we may be able to help.

You can contact Patient Financial Services at 212-639-3810 and find out more information at:…

Kudos to Drs. Bach and Salz for taking this stand. I am regularly seen at MSK for skin cancer issues. Recently my outside Dermatologist recommended a two week regimen of "Carac" a fluorouracil cream, which I have used effectively for skin issues inthe past. Last year (9/24/13) the overall cost of one 30g tube was $369.26 of which I paid $92.32 and Medicare paid the rest. This year (9/30/14) the overall cost for the exact same tube of Carac was $1498.59 of which I paid $421.04. Over 400% increase ! I don't know if I will use this drug or send it back. (I will speak with my Doctor) I have protested to my perscription provider who said they will contact medicare. Hopefully something can be done about this. Drs.Bach and Salz have openned a door.

Good morning, Is Sloan Kettering's cancer center an in-network provider for BlueCross Blue Shield Federal? The patient resides in Maryland. Thanks for your assistance. Joyce

Dear Joyce, thank you for your question. We are in network with certain BlueCross Blue Shield plans but Federal is not one of them. That said, we encourage you to reach out to our insurance specialists directly. Sometimes they are able to suggest other ways to help. You can call our Insurance Information line at 646-497-9176 between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday. Thanks again.

How much percentage of a donation actually goes to the
Cancer cure?

Alan, thank you for your question. We are proud that we are able to keep our annual costs at 13% of dollars raised. In 2013, 87% went directly to research and patient care.

I have stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. My current medicine cost over $16,000 per year. I found a foundation that will pay the share my insurance does not cover. This is a lifesaver.

I may have to take Zytiga. Tell me about the latest information you have on it.

Earl, MSK has studies underway to look at Zytiga (abiraterone) in combination with other drugs. You can see a list of open trials at:…. If you’re interested in speaking with one of our doctors about this, you can call 800-525-2225 to make an appointment or go to for more information. Thank you for your comment.

I am type 2 diabetic. Can I drink Chaga or am I risking low blood sugars?

Larry, according to our About Herbs database, chaga may lower blood sugar. You can read more about its effects here:

We are not able to provide advice about herbs and supplements on our blog, so we recommend you discuss this with your doctor. Thank you for your comment.

I havebladder cancer and been fighting it for 2 years my insurance is workman comp dept of labor enegyemployee does sloans accepts this insurance ? could u email me if u do accept it thank you oscar renault

Oscar, one of our Insurance Specialists will be best qualified to answer your questions. Please call 646-497-9176 during regular business hours to discuss your questions. Thank you for your comment.

I called Sloan Kettering and asked to be seen by a team of specialists that might help me get through some extreme pain and nausea issues I have been dealing with since my successful stem cell transplant (multiple myeloma) in October 2014, done at another cancer center, . I wanted a 2nd opinion. This request was refused and I was told that my current Doctors had to agree that my treatment had reached an impasse and that THEY in turn would call Sloan Kettering... The best Sloan Kettering claimed that they could do was refer me to other pain specialists outside the facility. Wouldn't it have been nice for me to sit down with a team of specialists at their facility and discuss amongst ourselves how to stop the living hell which is now part of my daily existence for the last 3 months... I was stunned by their (Sloan Ketterings) answer and overall lack of concern.

Pete, we’re very sorry that you had this experience. We’re trying to get some more information for you, and will follow up privately at the emails address you provided.

Thank you for your courage and integrity on this issue. Drs. Saltz, Bach, and Kantarjian are true heroes.

I need help for my husband he has stage 4 melanoma he has been through hell for two years the lymbs are coming out all over mainly in his neck he is pain 24\7 doesn't sleep unless he has pain killers. We have been going to LIJ cancer center they don't know what to do anymore they tried all the new meds nothing is working he is only 54 please I asking for help they want to put him in a study At NYU and we don't know if that will do help help help

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Does your hospital offer "PROTON BEAM THERAPY FOR RECTAL CANCER TREATMENT " for my brother ?


All medical details info available presently.
Urgent reply needed promptly ! Tks !


Dora Ng

Dora, thank you for reaching out. Memorial Sloan Kettering does not typically use proton therapy to treat rectal cancer.

You can learn more about treatment for rectal cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering here:

If your brother is in the U.S. and would like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan Kettering physician, he can call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225 or go to

If your brother is in another country and is interested in coming to Memorial Sloan-Kettering or in having his records reviewed, he can contact our International Center by calling 1-212-639-4900 or going to The email address is

Thanks for your comment.

I would to have a second opinion. I was positive for HPV. I have had a cryotherapy done. My doctor said its low grade. I would like to know if it comes back. Would your center review and give an opinion?

Jasmine, thank you for reaching out. If you would like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan Kettering physician for a consultation, please call our Physician Referral Service at
800­525­2225 or go to­care/appointment.

If you do not reside in the United States and are interested in coming to Memorial Sloan ­Kettering or in having your records reviewed, you can contact our International Center at 1 ­212-­639-­4900 or go to­care/international­patients. The email address is

Are there benefits for Prostate Cancer (25 years) from Turmeric? Thank you, Bob Vogel.

I'd like to also hear about the cost of treatment for cancer. Not just drugs but the cost of all the associated interactions. As a patient I find the drugs very expensive but I find the hospital and visit costs much more troublesome since I'll be going back for testing for a very long time.

Dear Aida, we agree that financial considerations are a source of much stress for people with cancer and their families. There are both medical and non-medical costs associated with cancer care, and we encourage patients to speak openly with their care team about their concerns. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) offers an excellent overview of these issues as well as a section with helpful resources for people facing financial challenges because of cancer treatment:

We hope this information is useful. Thank you for your comment.