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Clinical Trials Costly but May Save Lives

Lung Cancer Patients in Clinical Trials Live Longer Than Those Getting Traditional Treatment
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Aug. 26, 2003 -- Clinical trials -- though more expensive than conventional treatment -- may be true lifesavers. Lung cancer patients in a series of clinical trials lived longer than patients who underwent traditional therapy, a recent study shows.

Oftentimes, patients wanting to participate in clinical trials shrug it off because insurance companies typically will not cover treatment, researchers write. In fact, concerns that insurance won't provide coverage is the No. 1 reason patients give for not participating in clinical trials, studies show. The downside to that is, potentially lifesaving clinical studies take longer to finish when there is a low number of patients participating.

Too Experimental?

It's the experimental nature of treatments that make many insurers reluctant to pay for coverage in a clinical trial, researchers write. The study, appearing in the October issue of Cancer, indicates that perhaps the improvement in survival seen in lung cancer patients at a modest increase in the cost of care should make insurance providers think twice about coverage for enrollees in clinical trials.

Researchers evaluated incremental cost of care of 336 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer. Seventy-six people were treated in a clinical trial and 260 were not. There were 25 clinical trials available during the four-year period of the study. Patients enrolled in trials were more likely to be white, male, younger in age, and to have commercial insurance. They were also more likely to have more advanced cancer. Researchers calculated any costs associated with treatments between the date of diagnosis and one-year follow-up or death, whichever came first.

Higher Survival Rates

There was one finding that stood out: patient survival rates. The average survival period of clinical trial enrollees was 1.3 years compared with .09 years for patients treated with standard therapy.

In terms of cost for one year of treatment, it was:

  • $34,191 for patients treated with standard therapy
  • $41,734 for patients treated in clinical trials

That breaks down to about an extra $7,500 a year per patient to help him live longer. Age, disease stage, and clinical trials enrollment significantly affected cost, researchers say, whereas race, sex, and insurance coverage were not big factors. When adjustments where made for these other factors, the average increase in cost for care to participate in a clinical trial was almost $10,000 a year.

With this in mind, researchers make the case that clinical trials improve the general quality of medical care and help patients live longer. Researchers argue that the additional cost for clinical studies is marginal compared with the lifesaving benefits.

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