‘How much money do we want to spend to beat cancer?’

Retired biomedical geneticist René Bernards is still in his office at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital puzzling over a solution for cancer. Because promise is guilt: in 2013, he predicted that 90 percent of all cancers could become chronic within (more than) ten years.

Nine out of ten patients will survive the disease in the future, he said. “That brings us back to the interesting question: is the last ten percent very difficult, because those are the most difficult cases?”, he says in the eighth episode of the WNL podcast. War in your Body. “Or can you solve the last ten percent if you understand nine out of ten cancer cases?”

“If you compare it to a jigsaw puzzle, you put the last ten pieces in it very quickly, while the first ten are very difficult,” compares Bernards. “So if we use that analogy, the last ten percent of solving those cancer cases should be easier.” Experts differ on this. “But I’m optimistic by nature, so I think that last ten percent is quite doable if you already understand 90 percent.”

‘How much money do we want to spend to beat cancer?’

But to get this far at all, money is needed for research and new medicines. “There are a lot of problems in society that we could solve if we had more money,” Bernards says. “The question is always: how much money are you willing to spend on a particular problem? Cancer is becoming the number 1 cause of death, so how much money do we want to spend as a society to get rid of cancer?”

More money means more research and therefore faster progress. “But we once also decided together in the Netherlands how much money a person’s life year is worth, even though we never said it harshly,” says Bernards. “A year in good health can cost somewhere in the region of 80,000 euros, according to advice given to the Health Council.”

But we have drugs that are much more expensive than that, says the biomedical geneticist. “If we have to draw that line there, it means that we are no longer allowed to use some resources. The number of expensive resources is increasing. Each new drug in oncology costs almost 100,000 euros per year or more.”

War reporter Hans Jaap Melissen has made a second season of the podcast series ‘War in your Bodyfor WNL. A moving, but also optimistic 8-part series about the disease cancer. We hear how his wife Sigrid is doing now, who received the message last year that she has metastatic breast cancer. He also speaks with presenter Ruud de Wild about his bowel cancer and its consequences for his life. And Melissen visits people living in the vicinity of factories and highways who are afraid that they are breathing cancer-causing air. Doctors and researchers put the stories in perspective.

By: Marinka Wagemans

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