What Is the Role of Maintenance Therapy in Cancer Care?

Beth Fand Incollingo @fandincollingo
Published: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
In some cases, comparable medications can come at vastly different costs, Gerber and Schiller added. They pointed to a study that compared the costs of maintenance paclitaxel and maintenance bevacizumab in ovarian cancer—both of which have been shown to substantially improve PFS—following initial therapy with carboplatin and paclitaxel. The first-line regimen plus maintenance paclitaxel had an ICER of $13,402 per quality-adjusted life-year, while the first-line regimen followed by maintenance bevacizumab raised the ICER to $326,530 per quality-adjusted life-year, they wrote.

Berger agrees that the costs of maintenance pemetrexed and bevacizumab might be considered high by payers. In countries whose governments use equations such as ICERs to decide which health services to fund, she said, such price tags could be deal breakers.

“If the quality cost per life-year is over $50,000 or $100,000,” Berger said, “they don’t cover it.”

Limits tend to be similar among American payers, but should be increased, according to Klein et al.

“The base case cost per life year gained (LYG) for maintenance therapy with pemetrexed plus best supportive care (BSC) compared with observation plus BSC may not be considered cost-effective when compared with a commonly mentioned threshold of $100,000 per LYG in the United States,” they wrote. “However, this threshold is often criticized for being outdated and not taking into consideration the severity of the condition. In addition, this threshold is not well documented in the medical literature. Braithwaite et al19 have recently developed plausible lower and upper bounds for cost-effectiveness decision rules in the United States ranging from $95,000 per LYG to $264,000 per LYG. Based on these revised thresholds, in a population with advanced, nonsquamous NSCLC, maintenance therapy with pemetrexed is cost-effective compared with observation or erlotinib.”

To better determine which therapies deserve coverage, Berger suggested, clinical trial investigators should use patient registries—databases that follow the progress of patients over time.

“They answer questions about value, like what the side effects are, whether it’s hard for somebody to continue to take the medication, and whether patients experience depression,” she said.

In the meantime, Berger said, the costs and benefits of MT and other cancer treatments need to be part of “an active discussion,” even though they’re emotional topics.

“What a life is worth financially is a very philosophical and difficult societal conversation,” she said. “It’s a discussion we’re all afraid to have, but one we can no longer shy away from.”


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