Economic Cost of Lung Cancer Treatment Yields Little Benefit

Survival in non-small-cell lung cancer improved by less than a month despite increases in spending in 1983-1997

FRIDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- A study examining the cost-effectiveness ratio for treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in elderly individuals reports dismal findings: between 1983 and 1997 mean survival improved by less than a month, whereas costs of treatment rose, yielding an average cost per life-year gained of $403,142 per patient. The study findings were released online Oct. 22 in advance of publication in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Cancer.

Rebecca M. Woodward, Ph.D., of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues conducted a cost-benefit analysis for the treatment of NSCLC in the elderly U.S. population between 1983 and 1997. Life expectancy after diagnosis was calculated using figures from a national database, and treatment costs were estimated using Medicare data.

Between 1983 and 1997, the life expectancy after diagnosis of NSCLC improved minimally, with a mean increase of 0.60 months. The cost of treatment, adjusted for inflation (using year 2000 dollars), rose by $20,157 per patient. This translates to an average cost of $403,142 per year of life gained. The cost-effectiveness ratio was most favorable in individuals with localized cancer ($143,614 per life-year gained) and worst in metastatic cancer ($1,190,322 per life-year gained).

"Evaluating the return on medical spending is essential to assessing the performance of the health system," the authors write. "In sum, the additional money spent on lung cancer treatment…[during the study time period] did not result in a favorable economic rate of return by conventional benchmarks."

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