Clinical and Economic Impact of Epoetins in Cancer Care
Anaemia develops in most patients undergoing cancer therapy and invariably induces fatigue, which is a major determinant of QOL. Blood transfusions are reserved for patients with severe anaemia, since blood is a scarce resource and provides a short-lived benefit. Epoetins are recombinant proteins capable of alleviating therapy-related anaemia in 40-60% of cancer patients. The number of patients needed to be treated with epoetins to avoid the transfusion of one unit of blood ranges from 2.6 to 5.2; however, the absolute risk reduction depends on patients The ratio between acquisition costs of epoetins and blood transfusion requirement is very high; thus, many thousands of dollars needs to be spent on epoetins to save 1 blood unit. Despite this, epoetins have been widely adopted by industrialised countries, where cancer patients are about 2% of the total population. The resulting budget impact of epoetins can be calculated at about 10% of the overall direct cost for cancer care, and it is expected to continue growing by about 20% each year, due to the expanding cancer population and the intensification of cancer therapies. The economic burden of epoetins needs to be weighed against the improvement of patients' QOL and society's willingness to pay for a non-life-saving therapy. All published economic evaluations of epoetins invariably report that this supportive therapy is not cost effective. Society should be made aware of the opportunity cost of treatments and should be allowed to elicit preferences for healthcare interventions and prioritisation criteria. In the near future we expect that a wider range of epoetins, drug patent expiry, a more appropriate patient selection criteria and an improved dosage schedule may help increase the efficiency of cancer-related anaemia management.
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