Study finds 10% of cancer patients abandon oral anti-cancer medications

WASHINGTON — Despite the promise of oral drugs for treating cancer, high costs and the burden of taking multiple medications drive 10% of patients prescribed the drugs not to fill their initial prescriptions, according to a new study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice and the American Journal of Managed Care.

Healthcare research firm Avalere Health conducted the study, “Patient and Plan Characteristics Affecting Abandonment of Oral Oncolytic Prescriptions,” by examining pharmacy transaction data on 10,508 patients from between 2007 and 2009, and will present results of the study at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting next month.

The study found that high cost and having to take multiple prescriptions were the leading factors in 10% of patients abandoning their drugs. For example, claims with cost sharing of more than $500 were four times as likely to be abandoned as those with cost sharing of $100 or less.

“Our study shows that many cancer patients are abandoning the medicine they need,” Avalere Health VP Lauren Barnes said. “With 45.5% of Medicare patients in our sample facing cost sharing greater than $500 for their first anti-cancer drug, this is a Medicare quality issue of the first order.”

Higher rates of abandonment were found among Medicare patients and those with lower incomes. Patients with incomes less than $40,000 per year had an abandonment rate of 11%, compared with 10% for those making $40,000 to $75,000, and 9% for those making more than $75,000. Among Medicare patients, abandonment rates were 16%, compared with 9% of those with commercial insurance. In addition, patients with more than five drug claims for noncancer medicines in the previous month had an abandonment rate of 12%, compared with 9% with no claims.

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