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TRICARE Benefits Expanded to Cover Cancer Trials

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 1999 – The Defense Department and National Cancer Institute have expanded access to clinical trials for DoD health care beneficiaries.

Since 1996, the DoD/NCI Cancer Clinical Trials Demonstration Project has provided patients with an opportunity to participate in NCI-sponsored cancer treatment clinical trials Phases II and III. They can receive the care either in military medical facilities or through participating civilian providers. DoD covers the cost of the trials under its managed health plan, TRICARE. Now, DoD also will cover the costs for participation in early detection and prevention clinical trials.

"To underscore our commitment to wellness and prevention, we feel we must provide reimbursement for clinical trials that offer some of the most promising advances in cancer prevention and treatment research," said Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "For some TRICARE beneficiaries with an increased risk of developing cancer, the experimental trials offer new choices to minimize chances of developing cancer. It is another way to keep our troops and families healthy."

Clinical trials are research studies that help find ways to prevent, diagnose or treat illnesses and improve health care. People enrolled in the studies receive care that is considered the latest medicine or therapy but is not yet approved as standard care.

Two types of prevention clinical trials study ways to reduce the risk of getting cancer. Action studies focus on finding out whether actions people take -- exercising more or quitting smoking, for example -- can prevent cancer. Agent, or chemoprevention, studies are designed to learn whether taking certain medicines, vitamins or food supplements can prevent cancer.

This is the first time any health plan has agreed formally to cover the cost of clinical cancer prevention trials, according to Dr. Richard Klausner, NCI director. "This agreement will become a model for providing access to the best possible health care for people, while ensuring that cancer research can continue to make progress," he said.

Nearly 12,000 TRICARE beneficiaries are diagnosed with cancer each year, Bailey said. Meanwhile, other military patients are seeking ways to lower their risk.

"Prevention and early detection," she said, "are two of the most important and effective strategies for reaching the American Cancer Society's goals of saving lives lost from cancer, diminishing suffering due to cancer and eliminating cancer as a major health problem.

"When people hear the words, 'You have cancer,' they experience a wide and frightening range of emotions. They enter a world of bewildering choices about treatment, pain management, health maintenance and financial burden."

This agreement gives DoD patients access to the most promising advances in cancer research, Bailey said. More than 2,000 sites throughout the United States, including military hospitals and clinics, comprehensive and clinical cancer centers, community hospitals and practices, will conduct the clinical trials. In some cases, patients may be able to get part of their care from their own physicians.

To obtain more information about cancer prevention, early detection or treatment clinical trials covered by the DoD/NCI demonstration, contact the NCI Cancer Information Service at (800) 422-6237 or the demonstration coordinator at (800) 779- 3060. Information also is available on the Military Health System Web site, http://www.tricare.osd.mil/cancertrials/, or the NCI Web site, http://cancertrials.nci.nih.gov/.

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