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Economic evaluation of treatments for cancer in childhood

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Barr, R. D.; Feeny, D.; Furlong, W.

Treatment of cancer in childhood is an expensive undertaking for the health-care system and for the affected families. As there is a substantial burden of treatment-related morbidity, it is important to determine whether the effects of treatment are worth these monetary costs, especially from a societal perspective. Economic evaluation affords a comparison of the costs and consequences (effects) of relevant therapeutic alternatives. Preference-based measures of health-related quality of life are particularly useful for assessing the effects of treatment, for these tools integrate mortality and morbidity. These measures provide utility scores that can be used as weights on survival data to compute quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). Costs are incurred both within and outside of the health-care system. The former should include those in front-line patient care departments (e.g. nursing); the pro-rated share of the expenses of service departments (e.g. materials management) to those in the front line; and the fully allocated costs for capital invested in lands, building and equipment. The latter are costs borne by families that are both out-of-pocket (e.g. for over-the-counter drugs) as well as related to time spent in providing care, which may involve foregone income. Costs and consequences should be subject to discounting; a process for converting those items incurred in the future into contemporary equivalents. Economic evaluation provides estimates of incremental discounted costs per discounted QALY gained. By almost any interpretative standard this appears attractive with respect to cancer in childhood. Examples are provided with the encouragement that economic evaluation be undertaken in more clinical trials in paediatric oncology.

Research abstracts