Cost of trashed cancer medication totals $3 billionNews added by Benefits Pro on March 2, 2016

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By Jack Craver

Life-saving cancer drugs don't come cheap, but research shows some or most of the medicine isn't actually being used to treat cancer patients.

Instead, a new study finds that Medicare and insurance companies waste roughly $3 billion a year on cancer medicine that is ultimately thrown away. This happens when pharmaceutical companies distribute the drugs in vials that contain a larger dose than necessary for the patients who have been prescribed them. What they don't use, they trash.

The study, published in the BMJ, found that the average patient prescribed Kyprolis, a drug for Myeloma, gets a dose of 34 mg, 26 mg of which is wasted. The researchers estimated that the value of the tossed medication is $231 million.

Avastin, a drug prescribed for colorectal cancer, is not distributed quite so inefficiently. Only 50 mg of the typical 350 mg dose is wasted, but its high cost accounts for $284 million in wasted pharmaceutical drugs, the study estimates.

One bright spot is Treanda, prescribed for chronic lymphocytic leukemia: The average dose of 170 mg typically goes entirely to the patient, the study found.

“These drugs must be either administered or discarded once open, and because patients’ body sizes are unlikely to match the amount of drug included in the vial, there is nearly always some left over,” said the study, which urged U.S. drugmakers to adopt smaller vials, which are common in Europe.

The study noted the resistance that such a change would likely face from drug companies, as well as doctors and hospitals.

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