The established methods of cancer treatment are often effective, but they also historically have caused serious problems for patients. The harsh chemicals in chemotherapy and cumulative radiation damage from radiation therapy both can expose cancer patients to serious harm. While both of these treatments can reduce the size of malignant tumors, they are relatively ineffective at zeroing in on the cancer cells themselves. As a consequence, cancer patients may experience nausea, weight loss, hair loss, low white blood cell count (and corresponding elevated risk to secondary infection), and extreme fatigue.
New methods of cancer treatment are often focused on drug delivery, which is the means by which pharmaceutical drugs are absorbed by the body. Emphasis is placed on maximizing impact on tumor cells while minimizing the harm done to patients’ natural tissues. A field called nanotechnology may produce the most effective cancer treatment to date. In nanotechnology, matter is manipulated at the nanoscale as scientists change the physical structure of certain compounds at the molecular level. New drug delivery methods take advantage of this practice by designing drugs to specifically target cancer cells. These new molecules are then able to “recognize” cancer cells as different from natural tissue, greatly reducing the negative impact associated with older cancer treatment methods like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
While these new methodologies promise to improve survival rates and improve quality of life for cancer patients, the treatments themselves are often quite expensive. New cancer patients may find themselves at a loss to pay for treatment, particularly if they do not have health insurance. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was designed to address the growing number of Americans without health insurance by mandating that all employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance coverage for their full-time staff. Employers who do not comply will be subject to a substantial financial penalty per uninsured full-time employee. A similar mandate also applies to uninsured individuals who refuse to purchase health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, all uninsured individuals must purchase one of the government packages or pay a financial penalty of $95 (or 1% of their income, whichever is greater). These fees are meant to address the costs presently absorbed by hospitals that have provided healthcare services to the uninsured.
While the full impact of the Affordable Care Act remains to be seen, the continued development of new cancer treatment procedures and pharmaceutical drugs remains assured. Hospitals are presently searching for ways to implement the new developments in nanotechnological cancer treatment without incurring prohibitive costs to health insurance companies, healthcare providers, or the patients themselves.