Anti-Cancer Drugs Commonly Used Off-Label

Off-label use associated with questions related to clinical benefit and safety
By Pat F. Bass, M.D.
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Off-label use of anti-cancer drugs is common, and most off-label prescriptions are used for palliative care, according to a report in the November issue of The Lancet Oncology.

Dominique Leveque, Ph.D., of the Hopitaux Universitaires de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France, examines and reports on the published literature pertaining to the off-label use of anti-cancer drugs.

Between 1990 and 2002, the proportion of off-label anti-cancer drug use in children and adults was between 6.7 percent to 33.2 percent, with most off-label anti-cancer drug use taking place within palliative care, according to the review. The author writes that a significant safety concern exists with off-label use because little information about tolerance or side effects is likely to be available for the proposed indication. Further, health care providers may assume significant risk when prescribing off-label and face questions of appropriateness of the anti-cancer medication, and off-label prescribing may create hardships for patients or institutions when the drugs are not funded by third-party payers.

"Besides legal and safety issues, off-label prescription of anticancer drugs raises concerns about its frequency, its appropriateness, the clinical benefits, and reimbursement hurdles because of the very high cost of new agents," the author writes.

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