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Imaging Costs Soar for Medicare Cancer Patients
Date:4/27/2010

Whether more scans are wasteful or improve outcomes isn't known, experts say

TUESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Among cancer patients on Medicare, the costs for medical scans have increased twice as fast as overall costs for cancer care, Duke University researchers report.

"There has been a significant increase in the utilization of imaging services for cancer patients since 1999, especially advanced imaging services such as CAT scans, MRI and PET scans -- the most expensive studies," said lead researcher Dr. Kevin A. Schulman, a professor of medicine and business administration and associate director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

Schulman noted that more scans do not necessarily result in better treatment or outcomes. Patients, he added, can play a role in limiting the number of unnecessary scans.

"It's OK to ask your physicians why they are ordering an imaging test and how you might benefit from the result," he said.

The Duke report is published in the April 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, Schulman's group collected data on imaging costs of 100,954 cancer patients on Medicare who were diagnosed with breast, lung, prostate or colon cancer, leukemia or lymphoma between 1999 and 2006.

The researchers found that while overall costs for treating these patients rose 2 percent to 5 percent a year, the cost for imaging scans increased between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Although the costs for imaging increased faster than costs for overall care, imaging costs make up only about 6 percent of Medicare costs for each patient, the researchers noted.

The most growth was seen in the number of PET scans. The average annual number of PET scans grew from 36 percent to 53 percent, but they still remain the least-used scanning technology. However, these scans are the most expensive, running as much as six times higher
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