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Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Breast Cancer Follow-Up Imaging Varies Widely, Study Finds

Many Low-Risk Patients Receive High-Cost Procedures That Are Not Recommended

By Laura Kurtzman | UCSF.edu | July 13, 2018

Breast Cancer Follow-Up Imaging Varies Widely, Study Finds

Follow-up imaging for women with non-metastatic breast cancer varies widely across the country, according to a new study led by researchers at UC San Francisco. Some patients go without the annual mammograms that experts recommend, while others with the same cancer diagnosis receive full-body scans that expose them to significant amounts of radiation and are not recommended by experts.

Researchers said they could find no patterns in the data to explain the variation in care, but they suspected that it reflected differences in the common practices adopted by particular hospitals or physician groups. Full-body scans are expensive, costing between $2,000 and $8,000, and can be burdensome for patients who have high-deductible insurance policies that expose them to annual health care costs of $6,000 to $8,000 a year.

“With skyrocketing medical costs, patients are having to take greater and greater responsibility for out-of- pocket expenses,” said UCSF’s Benjamin Franc, MD, MS, MBA, a professor in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, the Center for Healthcare Value, and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. “These patients already have cancer, so you don’t want to induce another cancer with radiation from unnecessary imaging.”

The study, published Friday, July 13, 2018, in JNCCN: Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, examined data on 36,045 women aged 18 to 64 who had surgery for cancer in one breast between 2010 and 2012. To limit the group to patients with non-metastatic disease, the researchers excluded women who received chemotherapy in the first 18 months after their surgery. The data came from the Truven Health MarketScan Commercial Database and included information for all the metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the country.

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