Prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the US, is being treated with newer technologies, and people do not seem to mind the expense.
The research undertaken by the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Hospital Cancer Center was published recently and the report says that the high costs involved in the treatment did not deter people from seeking it.
It has been estimated that treatments such as less invasive surgery and advanced radiation therapy meant an extra $350 million in healthcare spending in one year. But, the research study brings up the question, 'Is it worth the cost?'
Paul Nguyen, the lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, told Reuters Health. "In an era of limited resources, it is important for us as a society to take stock of how we're spending our money. We don't think these patterns are unique to prostate cancer, but used it as an example and found that in the United States, newer and more expensive technologies were rapidly adopted before we knew if they were worth the added cost, or in the case of robotic surgery, whether they provide benefits over standard treatment."
The researchers compared the type and cost of prostate cancer treatments from 2002 to 2005.
Data was collected from 45,000 men who had Medicare, the U.S. federal health insurance program for people over age 65.
In 2002, about one out of 100 received minimally invasive surgery which involved making several small openings to get to the prostate instead of one long incision. In 2005, that number jumped to 28 out of 100 men. This surgery costs a few hundred dollars more than a conventional surgery, the researchers found, but the number of people going through it has increased.
The pursuit of more advanced and costlier radiation treatments has been even more pronounced in recent years. In 2002, 28 out of 100 men received "intensity modulated" radiation therapy, which is a newer type of radiation treatment that is thought to be more precise than conventional radiation techniques. In 2005, the number had increased to 81 men out of 100 opting for this treatment although it cost about $11,000 more than another popular technique.
With more sophisticated treatments using laser and radiation being recommended by doctors, researchers are concerned about how cost effective the process is. And yet, as Nguyen says, these numbers could be an underestimate, as the upfront costs of installing new machines and training staff to use them were not included.
Again, the numbers could be an overestimate since the study did not look into the consequent reduced hospital stays or other health benefits that could result in less expense.
Dr. Andre Konski, the head of Radiation Oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, has commented that it's important to find out whether the expensive treatments are worth it.
He said that newer technology is being adopted in hospitals and doctors' offices faster than the time it takes to find out whether the advantages balance the additional costs. And he remarks pragmatically, "We don't have unlimited dollars or resources to pay for expensive treatments that may have a marginal benefit. If the outcomes were improved, the costs were worth it."