I am attending the 49th annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in Atlanta. There are some impressive studies that spell good news for people with blood related cancers: conditions like follicular lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and multiple myeloma. There are also some worries that government may be in the way of you receiving some treatments even though they are validated by the latest studies presented here.


In follicular indolent lymphoma, also referred to as NHL, a new European study shows great effectiveness in advanced cases using a powerful monoclonal antibody that packs a radiation, cancer-killing punch. According to the European principal investigator, it's the most effective drug therapy we have. He's talking about Zevalin. The good news is the study of hundreds of patients showed dramatic results in improving progression free survival by a two full years.

Now the bad news: The US agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) just cut back the payment they will make for the treatment. One doctor from Northwestern University said the cut is so great it will cost the hospital $10,000 per patient to administer the treatment and so her hospital has decided not to do it at all.

How ironic. Great data comes out at a time the biggest payor pulls back. Who loses? The lymphoma patients. If this is your diagnosis you should write CMS or your congressman because they are pulling the rug out from under the sickest patients.

In CLL, there's a similar situation. The FDA has previously failed to approve Genasense, the first in a new class of chemo-sensitizing agents. Now new data has come out showing how Genasense is continuing, long-term, to do very well for patients when compared to another standard option. Hopefully this will convince the powerbrokers at the FDA to approve the drug as an appeal is underway. But in the meantime there are people who benefited from Genasense in the trial who can't get it now. They are worried they could die waiting to see if approval ever comes.

In myeloma, happily, there seems like clearer sailing when it comes to government regulation. And the news here is using even less of a drug may be better. A new study shows using less of a toxic steroid, Dexamethasone, can be safer and work just as well at lower doses and in combination with leading edge new drugs, namely Revlimid.

Overall there is plenty of progress here and good news for blood cancer patients IF government regulators and payors do what's right for some of our sickest taxpayers.