Hospitals throw away $3 billion worth of cancer drugs annually

Cancer medications are among the costliest for both hospitals and patients, yet acute care facilities throw out about $3 billion worth of oncology drugs each year unused, according to a new study published in BMJ.

Researchers concluded that the waste is driven primarily by single-dose vials of infusion drugs that are too large for individual patients. In some cases, according to the study, as much as one-third of a vial of some cancer drugs are left over after a patient is treated.

The issue of drug costs comes close to home for many patients, who can face six-figure bills for oncology care even if they have insurance. Moreover, there has been rising resistance in the oncology community about the ever-rising costs for cancer drugs.

Hospitals have also come under fire for how they ration other drugs that appear to be in shortage.

Some drugs, such as bortezomib, used to treat multiple myeloma, comes only in 3.5 milligram vials in the United States, even though 2.5 milligrams is the standard dose. Some $309 million in annual sales are attributed to the discarded doses. But 1 milligram vials of the drug are available in the United Kingdom.

For rituximab, the wasted portions account for more than $250 million a year in national sales. That sum is a little lower for carfilzomib, at $231 million, according to the study, but 33 percent of its sales are based on wasted portions.

The study noted that not every cancer drug creates such a quandary of waste; bendamustine, which is used to treat leukemia, comes in a wide array of vials, which means that about 1 percent of that drug is wasted every year.

To learn more:
- read the study