Cost of Drug Wastage From Dose Modification and Discontinuation of Oral Anticancer Drugs

Author(s): Michael Lam, PharmD1; Timothée Olivier, MD2,3; Alyson Haslam, PhD3; Jordan Tuia, BA3; Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH3
Source: JAMA Oncol. 2023;9(9):1238-1244. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2023.2306
Anjan J Patel MD

Dr. Anjan Patel's Thoughts

An interesting study showing that, on average, a cancer patient wastes >$4000 on unused drugs due to discontinuation of oral agents or dose modifications. Allowing a safe recycling method for patients to submit unused drugs could save a lot of wasted healthcare dollars.


Oral chemotherapy is often dispensed to patients as a 1-month supply, with pill dose and package size predetermined by the drug manufacturer; thus, changing the patient dosage may waste the remaining initial drug supply. The cost of pills wasted due to dose modification and discontinuation is often unreported.


To estimate the cost of pill wastage due to dose modification and discontinuation for oral anticancer drugs that were recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or that are commonly prescribed.


This retrospective cross-sectional economic evaluation initially identified 26 oral anticancer drugs newly approved between January 1, 2020, and August 31, 2022, from the FDA website and the top 50 best-selling pharmaceuticals in 2021 abstracted from the Drug Discovery Trends website managed by Drug Discovery and Development. The monthly costs of each agent were extracted from the Micromedex RED BOOK database. The FDA package insert, and in some cases PubMed, of each identified drug and indication was searched (matching on trial registration number) for information on registration trials. Information extracted for each drug included the name of the drug approved, drug target, cost of the drug, number of pills per bottle, available strengths, indication, name of the trial, number of patients exposed to treatment drug, number of dose level reductions, median duration of treatment, percentage of patients who received dose reduction, and percentage of dose discontinuation. All variables included in calculations were derived from the package insert or original trial publication.


The cost of wastage for selected oral anticancer drugs due to dose reduction or discontinuation and the percentage of wastage in comparison with the total cost of treatment.


After removing duplicates, 22 oral anticancer medications were included in the study. Because some drugs had more than 1 indication, data from 35 clinical trials were analyzed. Eight of the medications (covering 9 indications) had pill strengths divisible at each dose-reduction level; thus the cost of reduction for these pills was assumed to be zero. Two medications did not allow for dose reduction. The median cost of wastage from dose reduction and discontinuation was $1750 (range, $43-$27 200), with a mean cost of $4290 (SD, $5720) per patient. The median percentage of wastage from the total cost of treatment was 1.04% (range, 0.04%-10.80%) with a mean of 1.78% (SD, 2.21%).


This economic evaluation found that due to both the high cost per pill and limited pill strength availability, the mean cost of wastage associated with dose reduction or discontinuation was $4290 per patient. These results suggest that to reduce the financial burden for patients with cancer, regulatory bodies should enforce availability of pill strengths that will limit pill wastage during dose modification or recommend that drug manufacturers issue credit for unused pills.

Author Affiliations

1School of Pharmacy, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla; 2Department of Oncology, Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland; 3Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco

1 thought on “Cost of Drug Wastage From Dose Modification and Discontinuation of Oral Anticancer Drugs”

  1. In the past months with the shortage of so many vital generic I had been wondering if this is not the moment to ask advocacy groups to take on the waste of our very expensive drugs (oral & IV)

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