Controversy exists about the most appropriate treatment for high-risk superficial (stage T1; grade G3) bladder cancer. Immediate cystectomy offers the best chance for survival but may be associated with an impaired quality of life compared with conservative therapy. We estimated life expectancy (LE) and quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE) for both of these treatments for men and women of different ages and comorbidity levels.
Methods and Findings
We evaluated two treatment strategies for high-risk, T1G3 bladder cancer using a decision-analytic Markov model: (1) Immediate cystectomy with neobladder creation versus (2) conservative management with intravesical bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) and delayed cystectomy in individuals with resistant or progressive disease. Probabilities and utilities were derived from published literature where available, and otherwise from expert opinion. Extensive sensitivity analyses were conducted to identify variables most likely to influence the decision. Structural sensitivity analyses modifying the base case definition and the triggers for cystectomy in the conservative therapy arm were also explored. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis was used to assess the joint uncertainty of all variables simultaneously and the uncertainty in the base case results. External validation of model outputs was performed by comparing model-predicted survival rates with independent published literature. The mean LE of a 60-y-old male was 14.3 y for immediate cystectomy and 13.6 y with conservative management. With the addition of utilities, the immediate cystectomy strategy yielded a mean QALE of 12.32 y and remained preferred over conservative therapy by 0.35 y. Worsening patient comorbidity diminished the benefit of early cystectomy but altered the LE-based preferred treatment only for patients over age 70 y and the QALE-based preferred treatment for patients over age 65 y. Sensitivity analyses revealed that patients over the age of 70 y or those strongly averse to loss of sexual function, gastrointestinal dysfunction, or life without a bladder have a higher QALE with conservative therapy. The results of structural or probabilistic sensitivity analyses did not change the preferred treatment option. Model-predicted overall and disease-specific survival rates were similar to those reported in published studies, suggesting external validity.
Our model is, to our knowledge, the first of its kind in bladder cancer, and demonstrated that younger patients with high-risk T1G3 bladder had a higher LE and QALE with immediate cystectomy. The decision to pursue immediate cystectomy versus conservative therapy should be based on discussions that consider patient age, comorbid status, and an individual's preference for particular postcystectomy health states. Patients over the age of 70 y or those who place high value on sexual function, gastrointestinal function, or bladder preservation may benefit from a more conservative initial therapeutic approach.
Using a Markov model, Shabbir Alibhai and colleagues develop a decision analysis comparing cystectomy with conservative treatment for high-risk superficial bladder cancer depending on patient age, comorbid conditions, and preferences.
Every year, about 67,000 people in the US develop bladder cancer. Like all cancers, bladder cancer arises when a single cell begins to grow faster than normal, loses its characteristic shape, and moves into surrounding tissues. Most bladder cancers develop from cells that line the bladder (“transitional” cells) and most are detected before they spread out of this lining. These superficial or T1 stage cancers can be removed by transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT). The urologist (a specialist who treats urinary tract problems) passes a small telescope into the bladder through the urethra (the tube through which urine leaves the body) and removes the tumor. If the tumor cells look normal under a microscope (so-called normal histology), the cancer is unlikely to return; if they have lost their normal appearance, the tumor is given a “G3” histological grade, which indicates a high risk of recurrence.
Why Was This Study Done?
The best treatment for T1G3 bladder cancer remains controversial. Some urologists recommend immediate radical cystectomy— surgical removal of the bladder, the urethra, and other nearby organs. This treatment often provides a complete cure but can cause serious short-term health problems and affects long-term quality of life. Patients often develop sexual dysfunction or intestinal (gut) problems and sometimes find it hard to live with a reconstructed bladder. The other recommended treatment is immunotherapy with bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG, bacteria that are also used to vaccinate against tuberculosis). Long-term survival is not always as good with this conservative treatment but it is less likely than surgery to cause short-term illness or to reduce quality of life. In this study, the researchers have used decision analysis (a systematic evaluation of the important factors affecting a decision) to determine whether immediate cystectomy or conservative therapy is the optimal treatment for patients with T1G3 bladder cancer. Decision analysis allowed the researchers to account for quality-of-life factors while comparing the health benefits of each treatment for T1G3 bladder cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Using a decision analysis model called a Markov model, the researchers calculated the months of life gained, and the quality of life expected to result, from each of the two treatments. To estimate the life expectancy (LE) associated with each treatment, the researchers incorporated the published probabilities of various outcomes of each treatment into their model. To estimate quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE, the number of years of good quality life), they incorporated “utilities,” measures of relative satisfaction with outcomes. (A utility of 1 represents perfect health; death is assigned a value of 0, and outcomes considered less than ideal, but better than death, fall in between). For a sexually potent 60-year-old man with bladder cancer but no other illnesses, the average LE predicted by the model was nearly eight months longer with immediate cystectomy than with conservative treatment (both LEs predicted by this model matched those seen in clinical trials); the average QALE with cystectomy was 4.2 months longer than with conservative treatment. Having additional diseases decreased the benefit of immediate cystectomy but the treatment still gave a longer LE until the patient reached 70 years old, when conservative treatment became better. For QALE, this change in optimal treatment appeared at age 65. Finally, conservative treatment gave a higher QALE than immediate cystectomy for patients concerned about preserving sexual function or averse to living with intestinal problems or a reconstructed bladder.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all mathematical models, these results depend on the assumptions included in the model. In particular, because published probability and utility values are not available for some of the possible outcomes of the two treatments, the LE and QALE calculations could be inaccurate. Also, assigning numerical ratings to life experiences is generally something of a simplification, which could affect the reliability of the QALE (but not the LE) results. Nevertheless, these findings provide useful guidance for urologists trying to balance the benefits of immediate cystectomy or conservative treatment against the potential short-term and long-term effects of these treatments on patients' quality of life. Specifically, the results indicate that decisions on treatment for T1G3 bladder cancer should be based on a consideration of the patient's age and any coexisting disease coupled with detailed discussions with the patient about their attitudes regarding the possible health-related effects of cystectomy.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040284.
MedlinePlus encyclopedia page on bladder cancer (in English and Spanish)
Information for patients and professionals from the US National Cancer Institute on bladder cancer (in English and Spanish)
Information for patients on bladder cancer from the UK charity Cancerbackup
Online course on Decision Analysis in Health Care from George Mason University