Medical care costs for patients enrolled in cancer clinical trials are about the same as costs for patients not enrolled in trials, concludes a report from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study, based at Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, a large health maintenance organization, supports earlier studies and helps the cause of advocates calling for health plans to cover the medical care costs of clinical trials.
To compare costs, the researchers matched 135 patients enrolled in cancer clinical trials to 135 non-enrolled patients, based on type of cancer, age, sex, and trial eligibility. They then examined expenses incurred during a year of treatment, including costs for office visits, lab tests, chemotherapy and other drugs, and any other cancer-related treatments. The average outlay for each trial participant was $17,003; for non-participants it was $15,516, a difference of 10 percent.
Much of this difference was accounted for by 11 patients who underwent high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants for breast cancer. Excluding these 11 patients reduces the average outlay to $15,041 for each clinical trial participant, almost identical to the costs for non-participants.
The authors argue that besides not costing more, clinical trials could make HMOs more appealing to patients and physicians by giving them access to the latest treatments. In addition, clinical trials are crucial for the development of new treatments, but if managed care organizations continue their reluctance to pay for them, fewer patients may be enrolled in clinical studies.
The Kaiser report follows a 1999 Mayo Clinic study which also found that costs for clinical trials participants are almost identical to those incurred by non-participants.
Published Article and Editorial on the Mayo Clinic Study (on the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Website):
Scientific Abstract of the Kaiser-Permanente Study (on the American Society of Clinical Oncology Website):