Treating Elderly for Advanced Colon Cancer
Drugs come with many side effects, may add only one month to survival, researchers add
By Don Rauf
THURSDAY, March 10, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Expensive drugs are being given far more often to elderly patients with advanced colon cancer, but they offer almost no benefit, a new study suggests.
"This research found that there is a trend for elderly late-stage colorectal cancer patients to receive newer, more expensive drugs," said lead author Cathy Bradley, associate director for population science research at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. "However, in spite of their receiving more drugs, no [significant] survival benefit was observed."
In the study, published recently in the journal Medical Care, Bradley and her colleagues analyzed data on more than 16,000 Medicare patients with advanced, or metastatic, colon cancer and 4,000 patients with advanced rectal cancer. (Metastatic means the cancer has spread from the original tumor to other parts of the body.)
They discovered that among patients aged 75 and over, the percentage receiving three or more drugs to treat the disease rose from 2 percent to 53 percent over a 10-year period.
These agents included new drugs such as oxaliplatin (Eloxatin), cetuximab (Erbitux), and panitunumab (Vectibix), as well as bevacizumab (Avastin), which works by starving tumors.
These drugs have been shown to be more effective in younger people or those with less advanced disease, the researchers said in background notes.
For patients aged 65 to 74 who took these newer therapies, overall survival increased by about eight months. But those over 75 who took these medications improved their median survival rate by only one month.
The study authors stressed that these new therapies can also be expensive. Treatment costs for colon cancer patients taking these anticancer drugs in the first year following diagnosis increased 32 percent over the study period. These same costs rose by 20 percent for rectal cancer patients.
Patients and their families often have to cover a significant portion of these costs, the authors noted. These patients paid approximately $16,000 in out-of-pocket costs for care in 2009, compared with $11,000 in 2000, according to the research.