Combatting Cancer and Malnourishment

December 15, 2011

Cancer drives healthcare costs - to the tune of $124 billion on cancer drugs in 2010 alone - according to Medco, a pharmacy benefit manager. But nutritional counseling of cancer patients is often ignored, even though by some estimates most cancer patients will develop clinical malnutrition.

Cancer drives healthcare costs - to the tune of $124 billion on cancer drugs in 2010 alone - according to Medco, a pharmacy benefit manager. But nutritional counseling of cancer patients is often ignored, even though by some estimates most cancer patients will develop clinical malnutrition.

“I think there are several reasons that nutrition is overlooked,” says Milayna Subar, MD, who heads Medco’s Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center, which provides care to more than 1 million cancer patients. “It’s not because people don’t care about it. I think it’s because many people still think of cancer in a way as a wasting disease - that there’s nothing we can do. But there are things you can do.”

Dr. Subar says some plans, primary care physicians and patients are so focused on treatments that nutrition is not a priority.

“Many health plans don’t cover a dietician under cancer treatment,” she says. “Having it covered would add a lot of value for patients.”

Poor nutrition can negatively affect a patient’s response to expensive treatments, while early identification of patients who are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition can promote recovery and improve prognosis, according to Medco.

The company is providing nutritional services to cancer patients as part of its approach to oncology care. Medco’s nutritionists collaborate with pharmacists and doctors to help manage cancer treatment side effects and provide diet plans for patients that won’t interfere with their medications.

In addition to a pharmacist speaking to patients via phone, Medco has an online program offered to employers and health plans called TherapEase Cuisine, as well as nutritionist who speak to pharmacists and patients.

“It’s important to speak to or have access to someone who knows about oncology nutrition,” Dr. Subar says. “Patients need to be strong to overcome the side effects of therapy.”

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