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Did Medicare Reimbursement Changes Affect Prostate Cancer Treatment?
Date:4/7/2008

Study suggests a link between less drug therapy and more surgical castration

MONDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- In 2004, Medicare reduced its reimbursement rates to doctors for drugs that treat prostate cancer by blocking the activity of male hormones.

Coincidentally or not, the use of surgery -- castration -- to accomplish that same goal started to increase at just the same time, a new study found.

It's not possible to say that financial incentives had a direct influence on medical practice in the treatment of prostate cancer, said Dr. J. Stephen Jones, chairman of regional urology at the Cleveland Clinic, who led the study. "Certainly, I would not take that interpretation," he said, citing other possible explanations, such as increased concern about the side effects of the hormone-blocking drugs.

Still, Jones added, after the reimbursement rates were cut, "our study shows, essentially aligned with that change, progressive change in the two forms of treatment for prostate cancer. There was a major reduction in the use of lutenizing hormone-releasing (LHRH) agonists, which block the male hormone testosterone, and a less noticeable increase in surgery, which accomplishes the same thing," he said.

The use of only one of the LHRH agonists -- triptorelin -- increased after the Medicare reimbursement policy changed, the study said. It was the only drug in the class whose reimbursement rate was not changed.

The findings were expected to be published in the May 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

Medically, the drug therapy -- sometimes called hormonal castration -- and surgery are virtually equivalent in their effect on prostate cancer, Jones said. The goal is to combat the disease by shutting off the supply of male hormones -- called androgens, including testosterone -- that encourage prostate cancer growth.

But "socially or economically, there are other factors involved," Jon
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