Economics of Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis and False Positives

April 14, 2015

Weighing the costs of breast cancer screening and the economic impact of false positives.

Breast cancer screening can save lives, but the economic impact of false-positive mammography results and breast cancer over-diagnosis must be discussed, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs.

The over-diagnosis rate for breast cancer varies, including 22% of all breast cancer screenings in Canada and 22% to 31% in the US, the authors wrote. However, not much is known about the associated economic cost. In this study, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School sought to determine these costs among women aged 40 to 59.

The researchers looked at the expenditure data for 12 months following diagnosis from a major US healthcare insurance plan for 702,154 women in this age group from 2011 to 2013.

Determined costs:

 Cost
False-positive mammogram$852
Invasive breast cancer$51,837
Ductal carcinoma in situ$12,369

 

 

 

 

“This translates to a national cost of $4 billion each year,” the authors wrote. “The costs associated with false-positive mammograms and breast cancer over-diagnoses appear to be much higher than previously documented. Screening has the potential to save lives. However, the economic impact of false-positive mammography results and breast cancer overdiagnoses must be considered in the debate about the appropriate populations for screening.”

The authors concluded that this economic impact must be considered in the debate about the appropriate populations for screening.