Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: breast cancer

Targeting Breast Cancer: The Subtypes of Breast Cancer

Editor’s Note: Based on an article originally published in Biotech Primer Weekly.

Hearing your doctor utter the words HER2-positive, HR-positive, triple-negative or BRCA mutation can be devastating — even for the most resilient person. Simply put, all are linked to breast cancer. Breast cancer is complex, and a diagnosis can be caused by all, some, or even none of the factors listed above.

Emily Burke, BiotechPrimer.com

Emily Burke, BiotechPrimer.com

In fact, the National Cancer Institute’s annual report to the nation outlined four molecular subtypes of the disease. Each subtype is categorized by the cancer’s hormone receptor (HR) status and the level of expression from the HER2 gene. These cellular distinctions lead patients on different treatment journeys because the cancer subtype determines the drugs used in a treatment plan.

HER2-Positive

HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer patients — about 20% of all breast cancer cases — have the most highly effective therapies available on the market. HER2+ cancer cells produce, and therefore present, larger than normal numbers of the HER2 receptors on their cell surface. These HER2 receptors capture growth factors, which trigger the cell to grow and reproduce more rapidly than normal. Mutations are more likely with rapid reproduction and thus, a tumor is born.

Overexpression of the HER2 receptor is the result of having extra copies of the HER2 gene, known in the world of genomics as gene amplification. Gene amplification events are thought to be caused by mutations that occur after a person is born — it is not an inherited form of cancer.

Certain monoclonal antibodies can bind to and block the activity of the HER2 receptor on cancer cells. When the HER2 receptor is blocked, the HER2 growth factor can no longer bind and send a growth signal to the cell, so the cancer cells stop dividing. The presence of an antibody on the surface of HER2+ breast cancer cells also signals the patient’s immune system to attack the cell.

Another available treatment comes in the form of an antibody-drug conjugate — a monoclonal antibody that delivers a highly toxic drug directly to HER2+ breast cancer cells. As a normal part of the cell’s lifecycle, cell-surface receptors get internalized or “taken up” by the cell on a regular basis. When the antibody-drug conjugate is attached to a receptor that gets internalized, the toxic payload is released from the antibody and kills the cancer cell internally.

HR-Positive

About 70% of breast cancer diagnoses involve a significant number of receptors for either estrogen or progesterone, making them hormone receptor positive (HR+). HR+ cancers may respond positively to treatments that block either the action or the production of estrogen. In some cases, these treatments may continue to be used for up to five years after initial treatment to prevent recurrence.

Two common type of medications for HR-positive breast cancers are tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors. Both types of drugs may also be prescribed as a preventative treatment in women who are at high risk for breast cancer. In fact, tamoxifen is named on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, a list of the most important medications needed in a basic healthcare system.

Tamoxifen works by inhibiting the estrogen receptor. On the other hand, aromatase inhibitors block the production of estrogen by inhibiting an enzyme whose activity is required for estrogen production.

In February of this year, the FDA approved a new treatment for estrogen-receptor positive, HER2-negative breast cancer: a small molecule inhibitor of cellular enzymes known as cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs). CDKs promote the development and division of cancer cells, and inhibiting CDKs helps to arrest cancer growth.

Triple-Negative

Triple-negative breast cancers lack receptors — they are estrogen-receptor negative, progesterone-receptor negative, and HER2-negative. Since there are no receptor drug targets, this subtype is challenging to treat, and to date there are no targeted therapeutics. If detected early enough, triple-negative breast cancer may respond well to chemotherapy.

The BRCA Gene

BRCA stands for “BReast CAncer susceptibility gene” and everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The job of BRCA is to scan cellular DNA for damage and trigger DNA repair processes when mutations are found. BRCA genes are passed down from one generation to the next — a good thing, unless the version passed down is a mutated version.

Mutated BRCA1/2 genes are non-functioning, so they cannot locate DNA damage, nor can they enlist DNA repair. Testing positive for BRCA1/2 mutations may indicate there is an accumulation of DNA damage, which may eventually lead to cancer. BRCA is normally active in breast and ovarian cells, which is why certain mutations in BRCA1/2 are associated with a significantly increase risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. It must be stressed that BRCA1/2 mutations in and of themselves do not cause cancer; they simply make it more likely to occur.

A new class of drugs known as PARP1 inhibitors gives hope to patients whose breast cancer is associated with non-functioning BRCA genes. PARP1 is a second type of DNA repair protein. By inhibiting this pathway, DNA damage becomes so extensive that the cancer cells commit “cell suicide” (or apoptosis). When the cell in question is a cancerous cell, apoptosis is a very good outcome.

Not all triple-negative breast cancers are BRCA associated, but many BRCA associated cancers are triple-negative. For this reason, triple-negative breast cancer patients may find hope in PARP1 inhibitor drugs.

 

Dealing with Breast Cancer Stresses: Supporting the Supporters

 

Mammogram photoWith one in eight women developing invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, most of us know at least one person who has been diagnosed. Each October, Breast Cancer Awareness month in North America highlights the excruciating experience of this disease and its courses of treatment.

In a previous RealWorldHealthCare.org article, I described the emotionally and physically burdensome aspects of cancer, for the patient. But what can easily be overlooked are the enormous challenges for caregivers, who may be at increased risk of depression, anxiety, and sleep and cardiac disorders, as well as higher blood pressure and reduced immune function.

Unless the caregiver is either a survivor or mental health professional, supporting another through bona fide trauma may exceed one’s emotional capacities. The patient’s psychological responses, let alone physical challenges, might often feel like “too much.” Caregivers’ ongoing recommitment to their own health—including sufficient sleep, regular exercise, healthy diet, and stress-management approaches—may attenuate the enormous strain of caring for someone with breast (or other) cancer. The family caring for me during my treatment were not always so diligent when in taking care of themselves, and even through my own required focus on my own healing, I was keenly aware of the resultant wear on them.

The justifiable focus on the patient may steer caregivers to ignore seeking psycho-emotional support of their own; but doing so puts them at risk for clinical levels of distress. Counseling or peer groups can play a key role in alleviating emotional burdens unique to those in supportive roles. (Local chapters of Gilda’s Club, and its now umbrella Cancer Support Community, offer caregiver options globally.)

I didn’t join a support group until years after my initial diagnosis. Retrospectively, I would have done so from the very start of my own “cancer journey”, in part to gain support for myself, but also to lighten the challenges on my support team. Caregivers would do well to encourage patients/survivors to join dedicated support communities also, to expand the patient’s helping network.

Since patient supporters genuinely want their efforts to be effective, it may be useful to be aware of needs identified by breast cancer patients. From an informal, small survey of survivors, I identified some common themes caregivers may not always think of:

  • Financial assistance. Out-of-pocket costs alone may exceed $700 monthly for cancer patients—even for those with insurance. A fundraising campaign through Facebook or other social media site can help alleviate an enormous burden that significantly compounds breast cancer-related stress.
  • Physical company and gently supportive dialogue. Cancer organizations offer guidance about how to communicate with a survivor/patient, including things not to say.
  • Assistance with appointments and tasks, including filing and organizing of medical records and insurance forms. Lotsa Helping Hands or Google calendars can help volunteers coordinate assistive tasks across the patient’s care giving network.

Several cancer organizations outline additional tips about how to truly be there for a breast cancer patient. While it may seem obvious, the often-overlooked well-being of caregivers is also of paramount importance— both to sustain themselves during prolonged periods of giving aid, as well as promote the healing of all affected by the challenges of breast, or any other, cancer.

Are you in need of assistance with cancer treatment costs? Several copay foundations make funds available to offset copay expenses for cancer patients.

Have you ever been a direct caregiver for a cancer patient? Were you aware that not only cancer patients, but also their caregivers are at increased risk for clinically relevant levels of distress? Tell your story or share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

An Overview of “Breast Density: How to See Clearly Through the Fog”

Holly Stewart

Holly Stewart

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, RealWorldHealthCare is showcasing an interview with surgical breast specialist, Dr. Kristi Funk, founder of the Pink Lotus Breast Center.  The Beverly Hills, California based center is a state of the art facility, dedicated to the prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Funk was interviewed by one of her own cancer patients, Nikki Weiss-Goldstein, who published the interview on Huffington Post.

Breast density, the subject of the article, has become a hot topic because half of the female population has dense breasts, leading to difficulties in detection by mammogram. Breast tissue consists of a combination of dense milk production tissue, and fatty tissue.  Women with lower breast density have mostly fatty tissue, and women with higher breast density have more milk producing tissue, which appears similar to cancer cells leading to missed diagnoses.

Several states now require doctors to inform patients when the majority of their breast tissue is dense because 50 percent of cancers are overlooked in this tissue.  Weiss-Goldstein has dense breast tissue, and her cancer was not detected by mammogram until it was large enough to be physically palpable.  After a double mastectomy, Weiss-Goldstein considers Dr. Funk a hero and thanks her for her life.

The editors and writers at RealWorldHealthCare.org admire the Pink Lotus Breast Center and the work that Dr. Kristi Funk does. We hope you’ll read the article at the link provided above.

Were you aware of differing breast density? Is this going to change how you approach breast health?

Support and Health Information for Breast Cancer Patients Just a Click Away

As we saw in last week’s post, the American Cancer Society (ACS) is helping to change the way those living with breast cancer access the information they need to live healthier.  But ACS is not the only organization that’s empowering patients, especially women, to take control of their health through innovative online tools both during and after National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

Breastcancer.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the most reliable, complete and up-to-date information about breast cancer and breast health as well as an active and supportive online community. The organization’s website, which is also available in Spanish, provides information and resources about symptoms and diagnosis, treatments and side effects, day-to-day matters of living with breast cancer, and how to lower your risk. A Community portal features discussion boardschat rooms, a blog, and a link to Ask-the-Expert online conferences.

CancerCare is a non-profit organization that provides telephone, online and face-to-face counseling, support groups, education, publications and more – all for free. Its Breast Cancer web page offers information about upcoming workshops and links to breast cancer-related podcasts to more than 1 million visitors each year.

The Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center offer a range of breast cancer treatment services and conduct ongoing cancer research. A special Breast Cancer page offers basic information about breast cancer, from symptoms, causes and risk factors to how to prepare for a breast cancer-related doctor’s appointment. In-depth information is available for those who want it, along with a FAQ and a blog written by a Mayo Clinic nurse educator.

“Breast cancer patients and their loved ones need both support and reliable information,” said Katie Freeman, Communications Coordinator, CancerCare. “Fortunately, with our online services and support groups, patients don’t have to face these challenges alone.”

MyHealthTeams was created as a network of social media platforms to serve as a resource for chronic condition communities, to make life easier for those diagnosed with a disease – and their families – to connect with others, share their daily experiences, and find the help they need. Since its founding in 2010, MyHealthTeams launched three social networks – MyAutismTeam, for parents of children with autism; MyBCTeam, for women facing breast cancer; andMyMSTeam, for those living with multiple sclerosis.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, through events like its Komen Race for the Cure, has invested $2 billion to end breast cancer in the U.S. and throughout the world through groundbreaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 50 countries. Komen’s website offers a number of resources and interactive tools, both for patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and for those who know someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer. A message board and a blog let those touched by breast cancer share their stories, questions, and information about breast cancer news and education.

These are just a few of the organizations helping to support those living with breast cancer and their loved ones. Have you been diagnosed with breast cancer or know someone who has? What are the organizations and websites you’ve turned to for help and information? What resources – particularly online platforms – have you found to be most effective in addressing your needs as a patient or as a family member of someone living with breast cancer?

Categories: Access to Care

Profiles in Courage: Beating Breast Cancer One Story at a Time

As we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, heroes, organizations and allies nationwide are leveraging creative strategies to empower patients and families, educate communities and mobilize supporters to overcome the disease and live healthier.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Are You Dense?

Dedicated to “informing the public about dense breast tissue and its significance for the early detection of breast cancer” Are You Dense? seeks to educate the public and raise awareness around dense breast tissue and the need for early detection through online tools and resources in addition to speaking engagements. This organization helps women diagnosed with breast cancer by highlighting what it’s like to live with the disease, advocating changes to public policy around detection and supporting new and existing research.

Athena® Warriors

From the time she was a little girl, six-time Grammy winner singer/songwriter Amy Grant knew that cancer “was a force to be reckoned with.” Amy was inspired at a young age by the work of her father – an oncologist who spent his entire medical career treating cancer – to join the band of warriors. A tireless advocate, she draws courage from the countless women she helps empower every day to fight breast cancer, along with her fellow warriors: Amanda Beard, Angela Stanford and Karen Gooding.

“I am inspired by every Athena Warrior. If my music can bring women together and make a connection, then I have contributed something. Athena water takes a terrible situation and does something good for many; that’s why I love being an Athena Warrior,” Grant said.

Terror for Ta-Tas

Woods of Terror — a haunted theme park in Greensboro, North Carolina — hosts the annual “Terror for Ta-Tas Night” to benefit breast cancer survivors. A percentage of the proceeds from this year’s event will be donated to Cone Health Cancer Center’s “Finding your New Normal” program for breast cancer survivors.

Tami Knutson, Breast Cancer Center Manager for Cone Health, is passionate about helping Terror for Ta-Tas because she believes it will empower more Americans to live healthier and bring us closer to ending breast cancer.

“I teach young women about self-breast awareness,” Knutson said. “There is not another venue that I have access to young people.  Most health fairs attract people in the middle years and older. I find teaching  in such a crazy, unexpected location very rewarding. It catches people off guard and I think my message is really heard.”

The Terror for Ta-Tas event runs from 7:30–11 p.m. Friday, October 11. For event information visit terrorfortatas.com, and to learn more about the “Finding Your New Normal” program e-mail Tami Knutson at Tami.Knutson@conehealth.com.

Tough Enough to Wear Pink

A non-profit marketing campaign sponsored by Wrangler, Tough Enough to Wear Pink (TETWP) began with breast cancer survivor Terry Wheatley who, with Wrangler, challenged cowboys and cowgirls to wear pink at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo to raise awareness and to honor the women in their lives that had been affected by the disease.  TETWP serves as a springboard for communities to create rodeos and other western events that raise awareness around breast cancer.  By focusing attention on women’s health, this initiative raises money for women’s health education, supports women’s treatment centers and much more.

“The success of the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign – which has raised over $14.5 million dollars since its inception in 2004 – is that every community that participates through their rodeo or their western event is encouraged to keep their money locally to do good in their own back yards through contributions to their women’s breast cancer center, the women’s breast cancer wing of the local hospital or whatever breast cancer support group is in need in their community,” Wheatley said. “It is the decision of the local rodeo committee or event on who receives their donation.  The success of the campaign is that it is truly grass-roots, with people raising $5 at a time to support someone in their community.”

For example, Red Bluff Round-Up raises money for breast cancer treatment at the St. Elizabeth Imaging Center in their community of Red Bluff, California, to provide mammograms and other women’s health services directly from the funds generated through their TETWP rodeo event. This is just one of the many examples of how individual rodeos and western events use their funds to help women live healthier lives.

Now tell us how you are touching the lives of women living with breast cancer. What are you doing in your local community, place of worship, school or workplace to spread the word about how we can stop this disease together?

When the Health Care Blogger Becomes the Cancer Patient

The call came the day after my 48th birthday in April.

“The radiologist saw something suspicious on your mammogram from last week…an undetermined mass,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “We’d like you to come in for an ultrasound so we can see better.”

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

During the ultrasound they assured me that it was probably nothing…that in most cases, it’s a benign lump and not cancer. Surely, I thought, as I scheduled a needle biopsy for a few days later, this would be the case for me as well.

But it was not the case. Once the results from the biopsy came back, I realized that I had become a cancer patient. I was now part of a community of more than one million other Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

The days and weeks after that ultrasound and needle biopsy became a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, tests, and procedures, as well as surgery to remove the lump in my breast, along with several lymph nodes. As of this writing, I’m undergoing six weeks of daily radiation treatments, and soon will be starting drug therapies that will last for at least five and up to 15 years.

Just when I started to recover from the surgery, the bills started to roll in. I have what I thought was pretty good (but expensive from a premium standpoint) medical coverage under my husband’s workplace plan. But even with premiums that are far higher this year than we’ve ever had to pay in the past, the system demanded more of our money:

  • $334.43 for one ultrasound
  • $106.04 for another ultrasound
  • $35.49 for an oncologist office visit
  • $131.15 for a nuclear medicine injection prior to my sentinel node removal
  • $421.80 for my lumpectomy
  • $468.61 for lumpectomy prep work
  • $181 for the surgeon who removed the lump
  • $60 for post-surgery physical therapy
  • $737.45 for oncotype diagnosis test

These are just a few examples and don’t include charges relating to the 30 radiation treatments I’ll be receiving or the genetic testing being done (since cancer runs in the family).

While these out of pocket costs are certainly hard to swallow – I can think of a hundred other things I’d rather spend my money on – for my family, they are doable. We won’t have to skip a mortgage payment or a utility bill. We won’t have to dip into a child’s college tuition fund. We certainly won’t have to worry about having enough money for food.

But I know – from my work on this blog and with its main sponsor, the HealthWell Foundation – that many families living with cancer aren’t so lucky.

I had the opportunity to help HealthWell create a White Paper, “When Health Insurance is Not Enough: How Charitable Copayment Assistance Organizations Enhance Patient Access to Care,” which investigated the devastating effects of not being able to afford needed treatments for chronic and life-altering medical conditions. For some individuals and families, out-of-pocket expenses including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many people earn.

That’s not the case for me. I’m one of the lucky ones.

“I’m lucky” is a statement you don’t often hear from cancer patients, but it’s how I feel about my situation. I’m lucky that my cancer was caught early by an astute reading of my mammogram. I’m lucky that my specific type of cancer was deemed “curable” and didn’t spread to my lymph nodes or other organs. I’m lucky that my job as a freelance writer gives me the flexibility to go to doctor’s appointments when needed. And I’m lucky to be in a two-income household with no kids and the easy ability to pay our bills. For now.

Of course, this could all change in a heartbeat. My freelance assignments could dry up, which would impact our income. My husband could lose his job or become disabled. We could be hit with an unexpected and costly disaster like a house fire or a tree crashing through our roof. The cancer could come back.

I am, in effect, a heartbeat away from being in a position to need real financial help.

If I need help, I’m thankful that charitable copayment assistance foundations like the HealthWell Foundation exist. Cancer isn’t something you can put on the back burner until the time or money is right. Treatment is costly. Premiums and copayments are high. For the 29 million Americans with limited incomes and/or inadequate insurance, the toll can be devastating – physically, emotionally and financially.

That’s why I’m calling on readers of this blog to help. Your donation to the HealthWell Foundation, the American Cancer Society or other charitable assistance foundations really will make a difference. Maybe not for me personally, but certainly for the millions who aren’t as lucky as me.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Heroes Needed: Apply Within

We’re taking a departure today from our coverage of what works in American health care to ask for your help.

Patients want us to re-open our Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, but we can’t successfully do that until we identify several key companies or organizations to partner with us in this effort.

When HealthWell’s Breast Cancer Fund was open, thousands of Americans battling breast cancer found new hope to live healthier lives. Nearly 17,000 insured breast cancer patients received the financial assistance they needed so that the surging cost of treatments was not a barrier to accessing critical care.

As HealthWell prepares to re-launch its massive Breast Cancer Fund, we are expanding our call to action. We are seeking partners to help us make a real, positive difference in the lives of insured patients who often struggle to afford critical treatment including medications.

By becoming a strategic partner with the HealthWell Foundation, your organization will help thousands of Americans who face medical bills they can’t afford.  Beyond the incredible satisfaction of knowing that you played a role in persuading your organization to help us re-open this fund, you’ll gain a cause marketing partner that will support your efforts to build and shape your brand to new audiences.

When you work with us to empower patients, you will leverage a unique opportunity to win exclusivity, naming rights and more.

With one in eight women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the need for timely, life-sustaining care is outpacing our health system’s ability to assist patients. More and more Americans are in desperate need of immediate financial relief to afford deductibles, co-pays and premiums, yet many have few places, if any, to turn for assistance.

Women like Linda in Powell, Tenn., illustrate exactly why support for the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell is needed. When Linda realized just how expensive her breast cancer medication would be, she was scared. As a self-employed grandmother of two, she faced a $5,500 deductible for her insurance premium alone. Additional costs for mammograms, colonoscopy, endoscopy and lab work were all out-of-pocket and she wasn’t sure how she would make ends meet.

That is, until she discovered the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, a lifeline that enabled her to afford the treatments she needed to remain cancer-free two years after her diagnosis.

“My patient advocate gave me a list of several foundations to contact which I did,” Linda said. “The first turned me down because they said we went $50 over our salary. The second turned me down because I had a deductible. Then I heard from HealthWell. We couldn’t believe we had found help. We just had to cry. I am so thankful. Every time I have my prescription filled it still amazes me. Not many good things have happened to us.”

The fund’s incredible track record of success in offering assistance to patients in need is exactly why we must reopen it now.

The HealthWell Foundation believes that no patient – adult or child – should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it. As demand for medical treatments increases while associated prices continue to spike, we want the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell to once again provide timely, critical copay and premium assistance and expanded services to breast cancer patients.

These services went far to ease the strain felt by patients covered under Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and employer-sponsored plans with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening the financial safety net for more patients begins with teamwork. Together we can be part of the solution, harnessing our resources to make access to quality medical treatment a reality for more Americans battling breast cancer. Please contact us if your company may be interested in partnering with us to re-open this vital fund.

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog because we are innovators in finding solutions to overcome hurdles in the American health care system. The thousands of women at work right now trying to clear the hurdle of breast cancer deserve everything we have to give.  Join us.  We have so much yet to do.  And you could make a difference in so many lives.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Making Life Easier for Patients and Loved Ones: Meet MyHealthTeams

Talk to anyone impacted by a chronic condition – autism, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer – whatever disease or condition, they will all tell you it’s not easy. It’s not easy finding the support that best suits them. It’s not easy finding providers. It’s not easy period. At MyHealthTeams we create social networks for chronic condition communities. We believe that when you or a loved one are diagnosed with a disease, it should be easy to connect with people just like you, who can share their daily experiences, and help you discover the best people around to help you.

Since we founded MyHealthTeams in 2010, we’ve launched three social networks – MyAutismTeam, for parents of children with autism; MyBCTeam, for women facing breast cancer; and MyMSTeam, for those living with multiple sclerosis.

Each of the social networks we’ve built has been fully embraced by the communities we’ve addressed. Our flagship community, MyAutismTeam, has in less then 24 months, grown from 30 parents to more than 40,000 parents across the US.

Emily Ybarra, mother of a 4-year old boy with autism, was having difficulty finding a dentist capable of handling her child’s sensory processing disorder – a common challenge associated with autism.  After joining MyAutismTeam she connected with other parents near her in Orem, Utah and asked if anyone could recommend a dentist capable of “working with a special-needs child who recoils from human contact.”

Within a few days she had a referral to the autism-friendly dentist she still uses today.  More important, she had established friendships with many other parents of children on the autism spectrum.  Parents nearby reached out to her, but so did parents from all across the country who could empathize with the challenges of having a child with sensory processing disorder.   She wasn’t alone and she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

MyBCTeam already has roughly 4,000 women on the site since our launch in September 2012 and the majority of those women are actively engaged on the site or the MyBCTeam mobile apps every month.

This past week we launched MyMSTeam and as of this writing we are already closing in on 500 registered members.

Users of all three of these social networks share recommendations of local providers, openly discuss daily triumphs and issues, share tips and advice, and gain access to local services.  Thousands of posts, comments and updates are shared every day across these three sites and that number climbs each week as the networks expand.

Three major drivers behind the growth of our sites:

  1. People crave connection with other people just like them – they just need a safe and reliable environment to do so.
  2. The simplicity of our technology – our communities reflect aspects of social networks that our users are already familiar with (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) which provides for high user engagement.
  3. The rapid word-of-mouth among these communities.

One in two Americans live with a chronic condition[i] and they are seeking support from not only their medical providers, but also from people like them. In fact, for women with breast cancer, recent studies show that having strong social support improves outcomes[ii]. Sharing with people who are in your shoes offers a sense of community that can’t be found elsewhere – these are people who know the language of your condition; they understand the daily frustrations and the small triumphs that can mean so much.

With The Affordable Care Act on the horizon, implementing and expanding wellness programs has taken on a new importance for companies.  Organizations are seeking resources that not only help improve the quality of life for their employees, but also help control health care spending. Social networks, like the ones created by MyHealthTeams, allow employers to offer unique resources to their employees allowing them to create the support networks they need to get through to the next day.

For more information on the social networks created by MyHealthTeams, visit http://www.myhealthteams.com.


[i]An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease, Charting a New Course to Save Lives and Increase Productivity and Economic Growth, Milken Institute, By Ross DeVol and Armen Dedroussian, Oct 2007 (free download http://www.milkeninstitute.org/publications/publications.taf?function=detail&ID=38801018&cat=resrep)

[ii] Journal of Clinical Oncology, Social Networks, Social Support, and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Candyce H. Kroenke, et al., March 1, 2006

Categories: Access to Care

Filling the Financial Gap When Health Insurance Isn’t Enough

You can’t escape the headlines: rising expenses and high unemployment. And even for the employed, a sharp reduction in health benefits – coupled with a steep increase in out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance – is making access to life-saving and life-sustaining therapies out of reach for many Americans.

For some individuals and families, these out-of-pocket expenses can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many folks earn.

When people in these circumstances need help, many turn to Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), while others apply for financial assistance through independent non-profits such as The HealthWell Foundation. PAPs – which are offered by state governments or drug makers – are designed for those who cannot afford the cost of medication. Groups like Partnership for Prescription Assistance, NeedyMeds, RxAssistRxOutreach, and the National Center for Benefits (provided by the National Council on Aging), empower individuals to sort out their options and get connected to the PAP that’s right for them, sometimes even helping applicants fill out their paperwork.

What do all these organizations have in common? They focus on addressing the financial strains confronting individuals with health insurance who need important medical treatments but cannot cover their associated out-of-pocket costs and premiums.

Individuals like Marianne of Tarpon Springs, Florida, for example. For Marianne, living frugally her whole life didn’t help. Even though she had health insurance, paid all her bills on time, and once earned a good living as a librarian, the 70-year-old breast cancer survivor could not afford the medicine she needed to keep the cancer from coming back.

With no other alternatives to the $500-a-month life-saving medicine, the fixed-income senior citizen didn’t know where to turn. Until her doctors pointed her to the HealthWell Foundation.

Two years later, and thanks to the financial assistance she received from HealthWell, the still-healthy Marianne travels, cycles, and enjoys the life that continues to “delight and amaze” her.

“I am so fortunate,” she says. “I’ve always been glad to give back to others, and now that I’ve needed the help, I know just how precious it is to receive the kindness and compassion of others.”

Marianne is one of many Americans who benefit from organizations like HealthWell, which has provided copayment assistance to more than 164,000 patients since 2004. Without these critical funds, many of those living with chronic and life-altering illnesses would not have the treatments they need in order to live healthier lives.

No child or adult in the U.S. should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it.

How can charitable copayment assistance organizations partner with businesses, government and other stakeholders to achieve lower costs for health care treatment?

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog.

Get the conversation going in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings