Are New Cancer Meds Worth Their Cost?

Innovative but costly anti-cancer drugs have spurred the development of several value assessments and cost frameworks, all designed to explore one question: Do the benefits of these treatments justify their price? Now, new research published in Health Affairs suggests that these treatments may significantly extend the life expectancy of some cancer patients.

Health Affairs Research

Emory University’s David Howard, Ph.D., and his team of researchers analyzed Medicare data to assess how new cancer treatments impact patients with metastatic breast, lung, or kidney cancer or chronic myeloid leukemia. The researchers considered the treatments’ effect on both lifetime medical costs and life expectancy. They found:

  • Breast cancer patients who took physician-administered anticancer drugs lived 13.2 months longer and saw lifetime medical costs increase by $72,000. By comparison, breast cancer patients who did not take new anticancer medications gained only 2 months of survival and faced $8,900 in increased medical costs.
  • Kidney cancer patients lived 9 months longer and added $44,700 to their lifetime medical costs.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia patients lived 22.1 months longer and added $142,200 to their lifetime medical costs.

Policy Implications

Patients’ significant survival gains, particularly those demonstrated among breast cancer and leukemia patients, may inform future discussions about value, access and cancer care. Researchers note that cost effectiveness ratios derived from this data “are near or below most estimates of the value of a quality-adjusted life-year.”

The researchers also question in their conclusion whether survival data from clinical trials alone are sufficient to assess a medication’s value. While several valuation approaches rely upon clinical trials data, this study suggests that data from routine practice might could be equally important for analyzing new treatments’ price and benefit to patients.

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