The number, nature, and costs of serious adverse effects experienced by younger women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer outside of clinical trials are unknown.
From a database of medical claims made by individuals with employer-provided health insurance between January 1998 and December 2002, we identified 12,239 women 63 years of age or younger with newly diagnosed breast cancer, of whom 4,075 received chemotherapy during the 12 months after the initial breast cancer diagnosis and 8,164 did not. Diagnostic codes for eight chemotherapy-related adverse effects were identified. Total hospitalizations for all causes, hospitalizations or emergency room visits for adverse effects that are typically related to chemotherapy, and health care expenditures were compared between the two groups of women. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Women who received chemotherapy were more likely than those who did not to be hospitalized or to visit the emergency room for all causes (61% versus 42%; mean difference = 19%, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 16.7% to 21.3%, P<.001) and for chemotherapy-related serious adverse effects (16% versus 5%, mean difference = 11%, 95% CI = 9.6% to 12.4%, P<.001). The percentages of chemotherapy recipients who were hospitalized or visited the emergency room during the year after their breast cancer diagnosis were 8.4% for fever or infection; 5.5% for neutropenia or thrombocytopenia; 2.5% for dehydration or electrolyte disorders; 2.4% for nausea, emesis, or diarrhea; 2.2% for anemia; 2% for constitutional symptoms; 1.2% for deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolus; and 0.9% for malnutrition. Chemotherapy recipients incurred large incremental expenditures for chemotherapy-related serious adverse effects (1,271 dollars per person per year) and ambulatory encounters (17,617 dollars per person per year).
Chemotherapy-related serious adverse effects among younger, commercially insured women with breast cancer may be more common than reported by large clinical trials and lead to more patient suffering and health care expenditures than previously estimated.