Objective: To relieve dysphagia is the main goal in palliative treatment of patients with incurable cancer of the oesophagus or the gastro-oesophageal junction. The aim of this prospective, randomized multicentre study was to compare stent placement and brachytherapy regarding health economy and clinical outcomes.
Methods: Patients with incurable cancer of the oesophagus or gastro-oesophageal junction were randomized to receive a self-expandable metallic stent or 3 x 7 Gy brachytherapy. At clinical follow-up visits, dysphagia was scored and health care consumptions were recorded. Costs were based on hospital debits. Total lifetime healthcare consumption costs and costs for the initial treatments were calculated and a sensitivity analysis was conducted.
Results: Thirty patients were randomized to each treatment group. There was no difference in survival or complication rates between the two treatment strategies. There was a significant difference in the change of dysphagia scores between the time of inclusion and the 1-month follow-up visit, in favour of the stented group (P = 0.03). This difference had disappeared at 3 months. Median total lifetime costs were 17,690 for the stented group compared with 33 171 for the brachytherapy group (P = 0.005). This difference was due to higher costs for the initial treatment (4615 versus 23 857, P < 0.0001). Sensitivity analyses showed that the charges for a brachytherapy session had to be reduced from 6092 to 4222 (31%) to make this therapeutic concept cost-competitive.
Conclusion: Stenting is currently more cost-effective compared with fractionated 3 x 7 Gy brachytherapy for patients with incurable cancer of the oesophagus and gastro-oesophageal junction.