Saudi Arabia/World: Give Cancer Patients Every Chance!


Saudi Arabia has a nationalized health care system for its citizens.  Once a citizen has been registered as a patient with a specifi cgovernmental facility, hospital or institution he or she will receive the necessary care and treatment.  The needs of a patient are met in Saudi Arabia with its advanced equipment such as dialysis, various types of scans or xrays, monitoring devices, etc. It’s surgical wards and operating rooms are modern and clean.  Many of the operating rooms will have live video feeds to broadcast and record procedures. The knowledge and care for the patient is there. There are not the questions of whether a patient will have access to the appropriate medicines or a fear that medicines would be taken away.

In my view it seems like in America and a lot of other places in the world insurance companies and governmental organizations are now the ones making crucial medical decisions these days on the right to have access to helpful medications or perhaps even the right to live. While America is the best place in the world for medical treatment it is becoming clear that patients are not receiving every chance for the right to live.

The drug, Avastin, is an excellent example.  It is one of the few options for patients like me who have Stage IV metastasized breast cancer.  If not aware, Stage IV cancer of any kind is terminal and unless a miracle from God at this time cannot be cured.  However with Avastin, the growth and spread of the cancer is slowed down thereby giving a patient hope for an extension on life and hope for a cure to be found.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last year that it wishes to withdraw approval of Avastin.  Why?  Because there is not enough data to confirm that this drug is extending the life of Stage IV breast cancer patients…long enough.  Long enough?  I didn’t realize that when it comes to medicine and treatment that a limit(or is it really price) can be put on an individual’s life.  Avastin is not cheap.  Each treatment of Avastin is an estimated US$12,000.  Some breast cancer patients must receive weekly infusions of Avastin.

If the USFDA is successful to have approval of Avastin withdrawn from the market it will likely mean that insurance companies will no longer cover the cost of the drug.  The majority of Stage IV metastatic breast cancer patients are disabled and unable to work because of the progression and side effects of the disease.  They live on very limited incomes and rely on public health care.  It’s doubtful that they (and a majority of people) could self-pay US$1200 each time for that infusion of prolonged life.

There will be a public hearing on 29 June in Washington, DC to appeal for a reversal of the USFDA’s decision.  My own oncologist and one of his other patients, also a Stage IV metastatic breast cancer patient, will be speaking on why they think the USFDA’s decision is WRONG.   I am unable to attend because I have resumed more chemotherapy treatments this past week.  I also continue to receive Avastin.

I can’t be there but I have signed the electronic petition to protect women from the USFDA’s judgement on Avastin.  I would like to ask that YOU also show your support and sign the electronic petition.  Shouldn’t cancer patients be given every chance???


19 Responses

  1. Good article, it is so hard for lay readers, such as myself, to make any kind of decision on this.

  2. I would greatly appreciate Jerry if you and anyone else were to sign the e-petition. This is a working medication that can be taken away from me and many others. ):

  3. I read that there are lawsuits against the manufacturers of this drug because of it’s harmful, deadly effects. I wonder, can the FDA be sued as well if it allows the manufacturer to continue it?

    Yes, I realize that it DOES work for you, as far as you know, anyway so I hope that you can continue to get it.

  4. Lynn,

    As you know one can find anything in the media these days. I’m following this issue very closely and most of the negative is on the costs associated – the FDA believes it can justify that avastin does not extend life long enough.

    There are side effects like with every medication. The results are known and moderated. This is not a drug anyone can obtain easily. It is administered and monitored and controlled. It is the best drug available right now for Stage IV neg MBC.

    I’m not aware of lawsuits against the manufacturer of Avastin specifically of deadly and harmful effects. The manufacturer wants its day to repeal the FDA recommendation; especially as the FDA changed its own guidelines on the scope of the trial.

    this is an issue that needs more attention focused upon it rather than hare-brained, lose shirted Congressmen who push “enter” with the wrong finger on the keyboard.


    ‘After the accelerated approval of Avastin for breast cancer, Genentech completed additional clinical trials and submitted the data from those studies to the FDA. These data showed only a small effect on “progression-free survival” without evidence of an improvement in overall survival or a clinical benefit to patients sufficient to outweigh the risks. The small increase in “progression-free survival” reflects a small, temporary effect in slowing tumor growth.

    Avastin has also been associated with several other serious and potentially life-threatening side effects including the risk of stroke, wound healing complications, organ damage or failure; and the development of a neurological condition called reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome (RPLS), characterized by high blood pressure, headaches, confusion, seizures, and vision loss from swelling of the brain.

    On the basis of all available data relating to the use of Avastin to treat metastatic breast cancer, the agency has determined that the risks of the drug outweigh the benefits for this use.

    FDA is open to working with Genentech on any proposals to conduct additional studies of Avastin in patients with metastatic breast cancer designed to identify a population of patients in which the drug’s benefits exceed the risks’

    Perhaps what we need is insurance reforms that make them pay for therapies that your DOCTOR feels IS beneficial for you?

    Do you know if breast cancer patients in KSA can get this drug?

  6. I think of smokers who fight to smoke even though they know it could harm them with facts to back up that claim. It might make them feel good to smoke (calm them down, wake them up etc) but it is still damaging their body in ways that might not be apparent at first.

    Then again…even the govt that is well aware that smoking causes harm….merely slaps a warning label on the package and calls it good….to bad they cant do the same with medication.

  7. I guess that is kinda what they are doing Coolred. But the problem is that the insurance company doesn’t want to have to pay for it so if it is slapped with that label they’ll use that as a good excuse not to pay for it. Same as with ‘experimental’ therapies.

  8. For those of us that cannot afford insurance…I guess it isn’t easy to follow why insurance companies should pay for something the govt has declared more harmful than beneficial. If i got cancer of any kind…Im shit out of luck either way. I couldnt afford to pay on my own for treatment…and the govt isnt too sympathetic to my economic plight and insurance companies arent into giving charity payments and hospitals arent giving away free medication such as this particular drug for those that can’t afford it.

    Im thankful I have not required substantive medical care in the year and a half I have been back in the states…otherwise I dare say I would be faring far worse with the large bill that always follows the uninsured patient.

  9. Actually, Coolred. My friend’s sister had some lumps on her breast and she avoided seeing a Dr for over a year because she didn’t have insurance. She had even said that she would just not get treatment if it ended up being cancer. Well, it was recently diagnosed as breast cancer and she is now being treated for it. She was able to get into a ‘study’ and medicaid (medicare?) is picking up the cost of her treatment. I hear things like this frequently so I really have to wonder if people do go untreated for things. Also, my daughter did not have insurance when she got pregnant (grrrr) and she was able to get Medicaid to cover the birth and her stay at the hospital. Also, the baby was born with some issues (breathing and jaundice) and he was kept in neonatal ICU for several days all on the US dime.

  10. Im sure it works in some situations for some people…which is great for them…but with the Republicans attempting to do away with planned parenthood and reducing WIC for the needy women and children…I would venture a guess that those instances of which you noted will become rare indeed. Republicans do not believe in giving the “poor” handouts…its just a matter of time.

  11. I agree that there are those who do not want to spend a dime on the health of the American people but they will vote to send billions in military aid to Pakistan! Don’t get me started! 😉

  12. Women in Saudi Arabia do have access to and receive Avastin as part of the nationalized system for treating metastatic breast cancer patients. Europe has not blocked access to Avastin or other drugs showing results too but are not recognized by the USFDA.

    What the report does not go into is that while there are some chances of side effects, these issues are monitored and controlled. It’s not that every woman could or does receive Avastin – there must be existing criteria.

    The sad fact is that metastatic breast cancer among women is increasing and the FDA is looking at ways to cut costs and seems to be in cohoot with the insurance companies.

    Yes; a serious medical issue can devastate and change an individual’s life in spite of how well prepared or how much insurance one may have had. There are federal programs in the United States so patients do not go unattended or uncovered but it is a fact that not all the options may be available to them without recourse.

  13. ‘Women in Saudi Arabia do have access to and receive Avastin as part of the nationalized system for treating metastatic breast cancer patients’

    I’m curious about the non-citizens in Saudi, the ones not covered by the National Health Care. What kind of insurance do they have? Do you think they would also get this drug?

    Speaking of non-citizens of KSA not being covered under the national health care plan, why is that? Considering how ‘guests’ are supposed to be treated and how rich the Saudis are, I would think that they would treat their ‘guests’ to the best that they have to offer. No?

  14. Lynn,

    Like any expat anywhere in the world the medical insurance depends on the individual and the employer. Some provide private insurance; some are contractors responsible for their own and some employers provide insurance.

    Since I worked in the medical sector I was fully covered similar to a Saudi under the National Guard Health Affairs.

  15. Carol. I would think that employers would rather hire citizens so that they could save on healthcare costs, or would a Saudi employee also want the same insurance for some reason? How are those private insurance companies run? Do you ever hear of any of them denying coverage for any reason?

    When your husband Abdullah came to the US for treatment was it paid for by the Saudi National Coverage or a private insurance or his own personal funds? Did your insurance from KSA pay for your treatment that you ended up receiving here?

    If I were to go live in Scotland where there is National Healthcare wouldn’t I be covered by that? Seems I recall my dad having emergency dental work done while he was visiting Scotland and although he is not a citizen (anymore) it was all done free of charge. If a visitor to KSA got sick while there would they be able to get treatment paid for?

  16. Hi Lynn,

    You ask good questions for which I do not hold the answers. There are career expatriates who spend their whole lives abroad and the circumstances of health care and coverage vary widely. So much of coverage depends on employer, circumstances, nationality, citizenship…every country is so very different.

    I’d welcome hearing from other readers about their own experiences.

  17. Lynn,
    I know in the UK (or at least England), as a student I was covered until my status went below full-time, even if I still had a student visa. However, if I worked more than so many hours a week (I can’t remember how many now), then I would still be covered under the national health care. Not sure about KSA though…?

  18. Interesting StrangeOne. I’ll have to ask my dad about that again. Perhaps they just assumed he was a national because of his accent? I’m just really interested in how National Health Care works – just in case we end up going that route one of these days.

  19. What I found is that once you are “in a system” and have a record, you get treated quickly and with efficiency. However some procedures deemed as routine may have a waiting list…I’m speaking whether in KSA or UK or Canada. Beware though that with a national system it is “the system” which decides what meds can or can not be administered…at least that what it seems to be a lot with Medicaid. There may be other medications that are stronger or reputed to be more effective but with Medicaid regulations you can not have access unless you are able to self pay. Most folks in that situation can not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: