Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Parents of very short children -- and their family doctors -- often consider growth hormones, hoping for a boost in height that also would boost a youngster's confidence. But the controversial treatment, which involves a daily injection, comes with a steep price tag: $52,000 per inch.

In the first comprehensive analysis of the cost-effectiveness of the two leading growth hormones, researchers at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital found that the standard five-year course of therapy costs about $100,000 and adds just two inches of height.

Nearly three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of growth hormones for the shortest 1.2 percent of children in an age group. Typically, if untreated, on average they will reach adult heights of 5 feet 3 inches for men and 4-foot-11 for women.

But because the youngsters are otherwise healthy -- and given that there will always be children at the lowest end of the yardstick -- some researchers have dubbed growth hormones the first pediatric lifestyle drug.

The authors of the study did not offer an opinion on that notion but said the findings raise concerns about the economic value of the therapy. If the estimated 400,000 young people who qualify were treated, the cost to society would be $40 billion.

"Given rising health care costs and limited financial resources, we want to optimize the use of those resources in health," said lead author Joyce M. Lee, a pediatric endocrinologist. She urged physicians, insurance companies and policymakers to develop a treatment approach that targets only the children most likely to benefit greatly from the therapy.

The findings, released yesterday, appear in this month's issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

-- Ceci Connolly

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