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Are New Chemo Treatments Cost-Effective?

Drug advances extend lives, but one study puts cost per life-year gained at about $66,200

TUESDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- New chemotherapy agents for metastatic colon cancer improve patient survival but are costly, says a new study.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta analyzed data from 4,665 patients, aged 66 and older, diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer between 1995 and 2005. Compared to those who received older chemotherapy agents, patients who received one or more of the six chemotherapy agents approved in the United States between 1996 and 2004 lived an average of 6.8 months longer.

That increase in survival was associated with a lifetime cost increase of $37,100, which equates to $66,200 per year of life gained. After they made additional adjustments, the researchers calculated that the cost for each quality-adjusted life-year (a year of life in perfect health) gained was $99,100.

The study was published in the March 16 online edition of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

"New chemotherapeutic agents for colorectal cancer have been singled out as examples of high-cost/low-value medical care; no doubt they are the types of therapies that would receive close scrutiny if Medicare and other payers were to consider cost-effectiveness in coverage decisions," wrote David H. Howard and colleagues.

"Our estimate of the cost per quality-adjusted life-year gained, $100,000, is below most estimates of the willingness to pay for a life-year. However, continuation of Medicare's open-ended coverage policy for new chemotherapeutic agents and other expensive technologies will prove difficult to sustain as costs for the program continue to rise," they concluded.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about colorectal cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, March 16, 2010

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