Step-Wise Medical Therapy Is Cost-effective for Endometriosis

Will Pass

September 20, 2021

For patients with endometriosis-related dysmenorrhea, it is cost effective to use medical therapy before surgery, according to investigators.

A stepwise strategy involving two medications, then surgery, was associated with the lowest cost per quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs), reported lead author, Jacqueline A. Bohn, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, and colleagues.

"In 2009, the medical costs associated with endometriosis in the United States were estimated at $69.4 billion annually," the investigators wrote in Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Despite the recognized cost burden of this disease, cost-effectiveness data on the various treatment strategies is limited. Previous studies have investigated the direct and indirect costs regarding endometriosis; however, there are no prior studies that evaluate the cost-effectiveness of a stepwise regimen to guide management."

To fill this knowledge gap, Bohn and colleagues created a cost-effectiveness model comparing four treatment strategies:

NSAIDs, Then Surgery

NSAIDs, then short-acting reversible contraceptives or long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), then surgery

NSAIDs, then a short-acting reversible contraceptive or a LARC, then a LARC or gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) modulator, then surgery

Surgery Alone

The analysis, which compared costs, QALYs, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios, involved a theoretical cohort of 4,817,894 women aged 18-45 years, representing the estimated number of reproductive-age women in the United States with endometriosis-related dysmenorrhea. Costs were determined from published literature and inflated to 2019 dollars. Medical treatments were theoretically given for 6 months each, and the cost of laparoscopic surgery incorporated 12 months of postoperative care.

Of the four strategies, the two-medication approach was most cost effective, with a cost per QALY of $1,158. This was followed closely by the three-medication regimen, at $1,158, the single-medication regimen, at $2,108, and finally, surgery alone, at $4,338.

"We found that, although cost effective, requiring trial of a third medication offered little comparative advantage before proceeding directly to surgery after the second therapy fails," the investigators wrote. "Yet, for the woman who is anxious about surgical intervention, or when a prolonged wait for a surgical specialist occurs, trial of a GnRH modulator may be worthwhile."

Compared with surgery alone, each regimen starting with medical therapy remained below the standard willingness-to-pay threshold of $100,000 per QALY; however, the investigators recommend against trying more than three medications.

"Delaying surgical management in a woman with pain refractory to more than three medications may decrease quality of life and further increase cost," they wrote.

To make surgery alone the most cost-effective option, surgery success would need to exceed 83%, Bohn and colleagues concluded.

According to Hugh Taylor, MD, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., it's unlikely that this surgery success threshold will be met, since surgery alone typically leads to recurrence.

"We know there's a very high relapse rate after surgery," Taylor said in an interview. "Even if the surgery may be initially successful, there's roughly a 50% recurrence rate after about 2 years. So, finding the right medical therapy will give you more chance for long-term success."

Taylor said it's "really nice" that Bohn and colleagues conducted a sequential analysis because the findings support the most common approach in real-world practice.

"It confirms that starting with a medical therapy prior to surgery is an appropriate, successful treatment for endometriosis, which is something that many, many people in the community do, but we haven't had a real trial to show that," he said.

Taylor offered two areas of improvement for similar studies in the future: First, he suggested separating LARCs from oral contraceptives because LARCs may be less effective for some patients with endometriosis; and second, he suggested that limiting the third medication to a GnRH antagonist would be more applicable to real-world practice than using the broader category of GnRH modulators.

Although the three-medication approach involving a GnRH modulator was slightly more expensive than the two-medication approach, Taylor said the costs were so similar that a three-medication approach is "still reasonable," particularly because it could spare patients from surgery.

Taylor also speculated that trying a GnRH antagonist could become more cost effective soon. Although only one GnRH antagonist is currently on the market, he noted that a second agent is poised for Food and Drug Administration approval, while a third is in the pipeline, and this competition may decrease drug prices.

The investigators disclosed support from the National Institutes of Health, Arnold Ventures, the World Health Organization, Merck, and others. Taylor reported that Yale University receives funding for endometriosis biomarker research from AbbVie.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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