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Average cost of first two years of oropharyngeal cancer treatment in Texas is nearly $140,000 per patient

HPV vaccination could prevent many cases of the disease

Photo of David Lairson, Ph.D.
David Lairson, Ph.D.

HOUSTON – (Aug. 24, 2017) – In Texas, the average cost for the first two years of health care after a diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer was $139,749 per patient, according to researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health. The research results were published today in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Despite the fact that the majority of oropharyngeal cancer cases are caused by a preventable virus, the incidence of the potentially deadly cancer is rising in the U.S., according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program 

According to the paper, 72 percent of oropharyngeal cancers are attributable to infection with HPV. The American Cancer Society reports that HPV vaccines are included in the federal Vaccines for Children program, which covers vaccine costs for children and teens who don’t have insurance and for some children and teens who are underinsured.

“There is an effective HPV vaccine available. However, in Texas, just 41 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys age 13 to 17 had completed the HPV vaccination series in 2015, which is similar to the rate of HPV vaccine uptake across the U.S.,” said David R. Lairson, Ph.D., first author of the paper and  professor of health economics in the Department of Management, Policy, and Community Health at UTHealth School of Public Health. “In addition to reduced suffering and loss of life, the treatment costs saved by preventing future cases of oropharyngeal cancer though HPV immunization are an important consideration for those in Texas making decisions about the value of investing in programs to increase the HPV immunization rate.”

To estimate the average two-year treatment cost per newly-diagnosed oropharyngeal cancer patient in Texas, Lairson and colleagues analyzed data from the 2011 to 2014 Truven MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounter Database, which primarily contains enrollment and health care claims data for patients with commercial health insurance plans.

Among the patients with oropharyngeal cancer, the majority of the costs were for outpatient services. The average cost for outpatient services was $106,604; average costs for inpatient services and prescription drugs were $24,341 and $3,550, respectively.

“This provides an estimate of the potential savings per case that can be avoided by HPV immunization, which is highly relevant to HPV immunization policy assessment,” said Lairson. “Of note, we did not estimate lost productivity due to oropharyngeal cancer, which is a cost in addition to medical care.”

According to Lairson, the main limitation of the study is that only commercially insured individuals were included in the analysis. However, the researchers are planning on expanding the work to include Medicaid and Medicare populations in Texas, he said.

This study was supported by funds from the Stiefel Oropharyngeal Research Fund and the Moon Shots Program of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

-Adapted from a news release by the American Association for Cancer Research

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