Medical imaging costs for cancer patients soar

The cost of medical imaging services for cancer patients on Medicare is climbing at twice the rate of increase in the overall costs of their cancer care, according to a report by Duke University researchers. The increase in utilization is especially significant among the more advanced--and more costly--scans: CT, MRI and PET.

The researchers collected data on 100,954 Medicare patients diagnosed with any of six types of cancer between 1999 and 2006. Medical imaging accounted for about 6 percent of Medicare costs for each patient. While total Medicare costs for the patients rose 2 to 5 percent per year, their imaging costs rose 5 to 10 percent annually, according to a HealthDay article on the study.

The study appears in the April 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The increase isn't surprising, given the advances in medical imaging in recent years, according to University of Miami professor Michael French. But some of the increased use also stems from increased reimbursement for imaging and competition among hospitals. "Is there excessive use of imaging to improve profits? Yes," French told HealthDay.

In other cancer-care news, a new study appearing in the medical journal Lancet found a simple colon cancer test reduced people's chance of dying from the disease by 43 percent. The controlled trial involved about 170,000 people followed for 11 years. More than 40,000 received the "flexi-scope" test, in which a pen-sized tube is inserted into the colon so doctors can identify and remove polyps that could become cancerous.

To learn more:
- read the HealthDay article on the medical imaging study
- read the Journal of American Medical Association abstract
- read this Associated Press article
- read the full text of the colon cancer study in Lancet