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Background: The risk of recurrence following surgery in women with early breast cancer varies, depending upon prognostic factors. Adjuvant chemotherapy reduces this risk; however, increasingly effective regimens are associated with higher costs and toxicity profiles, making it likely that different regimens may be cost-effective for women with differing prognoses. To investigate this we performed a cost-effectiveness analysis of four treatment strategies: (1) no chemotherapy, (2) chemotherapy using cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil (CMF) (a first generation regimen), (3) chemotherapy using Epirubicin-CMF (E-CMF) or fluorouracil, epirubicin, and cyclophosphamide (FEC60) (a second generation regimens), and (4) chemotherapy with FEC60 followed by docetaxel (FEC-D) (a third generation regimen). These adjuvant chemotherapy regimens were used in three large UK-led randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Methods: A Markov model was used to simulate the natural progression of early breast cancer and the impact of chemotherapy on modifying this process. The probability of a first recurrent event within the model was estimated for women with different prognostic risk profiles using a parametric regression-based survival model incorporating established prognostic factors. Other probabilities, treatment effects, costs and quality of life weights were estimated primarily using data from the three UK-led RCTs, a meta-analysis of all relevant RCTs, and other published literature. The model predicted the lifetime costs, quality adjusted life years (QALYs) and cost-effectiveness of the four strategies for women with differing prognoses. Sensitivity analyses investigated the impact of uncertain parameters and model assumptions. Findings: For women with an average to high risk of recurrence (based upon prognostic factors and any other adjuvant therapies received), FEC-D appeared most cost-effective assuming a threshold of £20,000 per QALY for the National Health Service (NHS). For younger low risk women, E-CMF/FEC60 tended to be the optimal strategy and, for some older low risk women, the model suggested a policy of no chemotherapy was cost-effective. For no patient group was CMF chemotherapy the preferred option. Sensitivity analyses demonstrated cost-effectiveness results to be particularly sensitive to the treatment effect estimate for FEC-D and the future price of docetaxel. Interpretation: To our knowledge, this analysis is the first cost-effectiveness comparison of no chemotherapy, and first, second, and third generation adjuvant chemotherapy regimens for early breast cancer patients with differing prognoses. The results demonstrate the potential for different treatment strategies to be cost-effective for different types of patients. These findings may prove useful for policy makers attempting to formulate cost-effective treatment guidelines in the field of early breast cancer. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


European Journal of Cancer

Publication Date





2517 - 2530