Background Little is known about the cost to Medicare of breast cancer screening or whether regional-level screening expenditures are associated with cancer stage at diagnosis or treatment costs, particularly because newer breast cancer screening technologies, like digital mammography and computer-aided detection (CAD), have diffused into the care of older women.
Methods Using the linked Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results–Medicare database, we identified 137 274 women ages 66 to 100 years who had not had breast cancer and assessed the cost to fee-for-service Medicare of breast cancer screening and workup during 2006 to 2007. For women who developed cancer, we calculated initial treatment cost. We then assessed screening-related cost at the Hospital Referral Region (HRR) level and evaluated the association between regional expenditures and workup test utilization, cancer incidence, and treatment costs.
Results In the United States, the annual costs to fee-for-service Medicare for breast cancer screening-related procedures (comprising screening plus workup) and treatment expenditures were $1.08 billion and $1.36 billion, respectively. For women 75 years or older, annual screening-related expenditures exceeded $410 million. Age-standardized screening-related cost per beneficiary varied more than 2-fold across regions (from $42 to $107 per beneficiary); digital screening mammography and CAD accounted for 65% of the difference in screening-related cost between HRRs in the highest and lowest quartiles of cost. Women residing in HRRs with high screening costs were more likely to be diagnosed as having early-stage cancer (incidence rate ratio, 1.78 [95% CI, 1.40-2.26]). There was no significant difference in the cost of initial cancer treatment per beneficiary between the highest and lowest screening cost HRRs ($151 vs $115; P = .20).
Conclusions The cost to Medicare of breast cancer screening exceeds $1 billion annually in the fee-for-service program. Regional variation is substantial and driven by the use of newer and more expensive technologies; it is unclear whether higher screening expenditures are achieving better breast cancer outcomes.