BACKGROUND: More effective methods of preventing and treating breast cancer are being sought by clinicians every day, and new drugs and interventions for overcoming this cancer are being energetically evaluated. At present, there are wide treatment options and many different objectives for breast cancer. These circumstances led us to seek information about the relative costs of the different medical options for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer and to try to ascertain whether one course of action is more efficient than other courses. Economic evaluation of healthcare is indispensable for selection of the best alternatives among medical interventions which are becoming more diverse day after day. The total medical expenditure continues to rise each year and some sort of evaluation from an objective and external viewpoint is required to provide the information with which to suppress this rise. METHODS: This paper surveys the three major reports published on this topic to date, for the purpose of demonstrating the importance and necessity of performing an economic analysis of the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. The three reports to be surveyed pertain to: (1) cost-effectiveness analysis of adjuvant chemotherapy for patients with lymph node negative breast cancer, (2) cost utility analysis of first-line hormonal therapy in advanced breast cancer, namely comparison of two aromatase inhibitors to tamoxifen, and (3) cost-effectiveness analysis of tamoxifen in the prevention of breast cancer. In addition, this paper discusses the advantages, limitations and perspective for the future of the economic evaluation of healthcare for breast cancer. RESULTS: (1) The authors concluded that if the average risk of all women of undergoing recurrence after this therapy is assumed to be 4% per year, adjuvant chemotherapy is definitely of benefit for node-negative, estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer patients. They additionally stated that this benefit decreases markedly if the changes in long-term survival are less than those in disease-free survival. In this connection, they pointed out that the benefit is considerably smaller among postmenopausal 60-year-old women. (2) The incremental cost per quality-adjusted progression-free life year (QAPFY) for letrozole and anastrozole, relative to tamoxifen, was Can $12,500-19,600, which was lower than the criterion level (US $50,000). On the basis of this result, the authors concluded that these two drugs are economically acceptable. Furthermore, when efficacy and cost effectiveness were analyzed together, it was concluded that letrozole is in fact preferable to anastrozole. (3) The model analysis of tamoxifen's cost effectiveness among women at increased risk for breast cancer yielded the following results. In the base-case analysis, involving the calculation of the costs and benefits of 5-year tamoxifen administration, the incremental cost effectiveness of tamoxifen was $41,372 per life-year gained for women age 35 to 49 years, whereas for women age 50 to 59 years and 60 to 69 years, these values were $68,349 and $74,981, respectively. For women who had undergone hysterectomy and thus had no risk of the onset of endometrial cancer, the incremental cost effectiveness of tamoxifen was $46,060 per life-year gained. CONCLUSION: Medico-economic evaluation of breast cancer is very significant and valuable and is expected to stimulate efficient utilization of healthcare resources. It can provide important information to physicians, patients, insurers, pharmaceutical and other industries, healthcare policy planners, and others.
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