Ballooning costs of treating melanoma in Australia

Survival after a diagnosis of melanoma has increased with the advent of immunotherapies but costs of treatment have also increased dramatically, according to new research.

Average health care costs during the three years from a diagnosis of melanoma are up from about $30 million for 8,885 cases in 2001 to $201 million for about 13,000 cases in 2014.

Co-author Associate Professor Louisa Gordon, a health economist at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, told the limbic the treatment of advanced melanoma was the biggest cost.

The cost of treating in situ and stage l/ll melanoma was estimated at $1,681 per patient per year, compared to $37,729 for resectable stage lll melanoma and $115,109 for unresectable stage lll and stage lV disease.

“I’m sure specialists know the high costs of these immunotherapies but they are available for patients, giving great relief and saving lives; it’s just unfortunate that they are very expensive.”

First-year costs of fotemustine were $69,731, ipilimumab $130,793 and dabrafenib with trametinib $164,235.

“Melanoma used to be one of the low cost cancers because we didn’t have a lot of treatments until the last five years, but now it has really climbed up the ranking,” she said.

Healthcare costs were expected to rise further due to the compounding effects of health price inflation, increased uptake of expensive new medicines, and ageing of the population.

Associate Professor Gordon said the high costs of treatment reinforced the value of investing in primary prevention for melanoma and other skin cancers.

The study also found the cost of treating suspected melanomas that were later confirmed to be benign lesions was about $49 million per year.

“Our doctors are well trained, particularly in Australia, because they see these cancers so frequently but better diagnostic methods would be helpful.”

“We’re making the point that while we have great doctors, we also have skin cancers that are very difficult to diagnose so more lesions than just the cancers are getting excised and treated.”

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