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Costly Breast Cancer Screenings May Not Help Seniors: Study
Date:1/7/2013

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Medicare spends more than $1 billion each year for breast cancer screenings such as mammography, according to a new study.

However, all that expenditure may not help produce better results for older women, said Dr. Cary Gross, an associate professor of internal medicine at Yale University School of Medicine. He also directs the Yale Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center.

In the new study, Gross and his colleagues identified more than 137,000 women, aged 66 to 100, who had no history of breast cancer. Gross looked at the costs to fee-for-service Medicare for breast cancer screening during 2006-2007.

The study authors also looked at costs of screening in different regions.

Women living in areas with higher screening costs were as much as 78 percent more likely to be diagnosed with early-stage or in-situ breast cancer as women in regions spending less.

However, regardless of how much was spent on screening, it didn't make a difference in diagnosing late-stage cancers, the investigators found.

This suggests "overdiagnosis" of breast cancers in the regions spending the most on screening, Gross said. This means a cancer that was diagnosed may not have been problematic during a woman's lifetime. However, other experts argue that it's difficult to determine which cancers will become a threat to health.

The study is published online Jan. 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The variation in screening costs by regions, Gross said, is driven by newer and more expensive screening technologies such as digital mammography and computer-aided detection. The costs varied greatly by region of the country, from $42 to $107 per person.

In older women, he said, research is lacking about whether the newer technologies produce better health outcomes.

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