Steroids are usually the first choice of therapy for the treatment of patients with graft-vs.-host disease (GVHD), but complications from steroid use may carry a high financial cost, investigators caution.
Among 689 patients with a diagnosis of GVHD following a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) who received steroids, 685 (97%) had at least one steroid-related complication, resulting in nearly $165,000 in mean health-care costs over 24 months, said Elizabeth J. Bell, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist at Optum Inc.
“For both acute and chronic GVHD, the standard of care for first-line treatment is systemic steroids. The complications associated with steroid treatment are well known. However, the health-care resources utilized and the costs incurred by these patients are not well-quantified,” she said at the Transplantation & Cellular Therapies Meetings (Abstract 12).
Bell reported the results of a retrospective database analysis on costs associated with steroid complications in HSCT recipients at the meeting, which was held by the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.
She and colleagues from Optum, Incyte, and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis looked at data on 689 patients with a diagnosis of GVHD after HSCT who received systemic steroids from July 1, 2010, through Aug. 31, 2019. The data were extracted from the Optum Research database, and included U.S. commercial and Medicare Advantage patients.
They looked at total complications and steroid-associated complications in each of four categories: infections; metabolic or endocrine complications (for example, diabetes, dyslipidemia); gastrointestinal (GI) complications (e.g., peptic ulcer disease); and bone or muscle complications (myopathy, etc).
They estimated costs based on International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes for any steroid complications during the 24 months after steroid initiation, including those complications that may have been present at the time of GVHD diagnosis.
The median patient age was 55 years, and 60% of the sample were male. The mean Charlson Comorbidity Index score at baseline was 3.
Overall, 22% of patients had only acute GVHD, 21% had only chronic GVHD, and 39% had both acute and chronic disease. The GVHD type was unspecified in the remaining 18%.
The median time from GVHD diagnosis to initiating steroids was 30 days for patients with both acute and chronic disease, as well as those with both presentations. The median time to initiation was 36 days for patients with unspecified GVHD type.
The median cumulative duration of steroid use over 24 months was 62 days for patients with acute GVHD, 208 days for those with chronic GVHD, 166 days for those with both, and 74 days for patients with unspecified GVHD type.
As noted before, complications occurred in 97% of patients, with infections being the most common complications, occurring in 80% of patients, followed by metabolic/endocrine complications in 32%, gastrointestinal in 29%, and bone/muscle complications in 20%.
For the 665 patients who had any steroid-related complication, the mean costs of steroid-associated care in the 24 months after they were started on steroids was $164,787, and the median cost was $50,834.
Health care costs were highest among patients with infections, at a mean of $167,473, and a median of $57,680, followed by bone/muscle conditions ($75,289 and $2,057, respectively), GI conditions ($67,861 and $3,360), and metabolic or endocrine conditions ($47, 101 and $1,164).
In all categories, hospitalizations accounted for the large majority of costs.
Two-thirds (66%) of patients who experienced any steroid-related complication required hospitalization, primarily for infections.
Among all patients with complications, the median cumulative hospital stay over 24 months was 20 days, with bone/muscle complications and infections associated with a median of 19 and 18 days of hospitalization, respectively.
Bell acknowledged that the study was limited by use of ICD coding to identify steroid complication-related health-care utilization and costs, which can be imprecise, and by the fact that the analysis included only complications resulting in health care use as documented in medical claims. In addition, the investigators noted that they could not control for the possibility that steroids exacerbated conditions that existed at baseline.
“These findings emphasize the need to cautiously evaluate the treatment options for patients with GVHD. Future study with medical records is needed to provide insights on the clinical aspects of the complications (e.g., severity and suspected causality),” Bell and colleagues concluded in the study’s abstract.
An HSCT specialist approached for comment said that the findings of the study made sense, but she had questions regarding the study methodology.
“I would intuitively think that steroid-associated complications are a major cause of health care use in GVHD patients and it’s interesting to see that there is emerging data to support this hypothesis,” HSCT specialist Hélène Schoemans, MD of the University of Leuven, Belgium, said in an interview.
She noted, however, that “it is surprising that the period of steroid initiation was the same for acute and chronic GVHD,” and questioned whether that anomalous finding could be due to the study’s definition of acute and chronic GVHD or to how the period from baseline to steroid initiation was defined.
The questions about the definitions and timing of therapy make it uncertain as to whether the complications reported were caused by steroids or by some other factor, she suggested.
The study was supported by Optum Inc. Bell is an employee of the company, and a paid consultant of Incyte. Schoemans has received travel expenses from Celgene, AbbVie, and Incyte; is part of the advisory boards for Incyte; and has received speakers fees from Novartis, Incyte, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, and Takeda.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.