CHICAGO—Cancer researchers see promise in giving patients combinations of multiple drugs that are proving more effective than one or two. But the strategy poses a dilemma for health insurers and patients: even higher prices.

Researchers said at a medical meeting here Sunday that adding a third drug, Johnson & Johnson’s Darzalex, to an older two-drug combination for patients with multiple myeloma significantly slowed the blood cancer’s growth compared with the older two-drug combination alone in a clinical trial.

But the combined cost of the drugs—based on current list prices and the dosing schedule used in the study—would be at least $180,000 for the first full year of treatment for the average patient. Darzalex, which was introduced last year, costs about $134,550 for the first year and $76,050 each year thereafter, a J&J spokesman said.

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High prices for new cancer drugs and repeated increases for some older ones have sparked criticism from doctors, patients and insurers, who say the costs are straining budgets and often seem unrelated to how well the drugs work. The spread of combination treatments threatens to heighten this tension.

“We have to think about if the benefit from combination therapies is worth the cost,” Daniel Goldstein, a medical oncologist at Rabin Medical Center in Israel, said in an interview Friday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.