Do Medicare patients benefit from skyrocketing mammo costs?

The costs to Medicare to cover mammography screening skyrocketed in the first decade of the 21st century, according to a study published online July 1 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers led by Cary Gross, director of the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy and Effectiveness Research (COPPER) Center at the Yale Cancer Center, found that the cost per person associated with breast cancer screening increased 47 percent from 2001 to 2009. They determined that over the study period, the costs of screening per person increased from $76 to $112, and that annual Medicare spending on mammography screening increased from $666 million to $962 million.

At the same time, the researchers reported that detection rates of early-stage tumors hardly changed.

"We need further studies to identify which women will benefit from screening, and how to screen effectively and efficiently," Gross said in a Yale statement. "But we cannot simply adopt new technologies because they theoretically are superior--the health system cannot sustain it, and more importantly, our patients deserve a sustained effort to determine which approaches to screening are effective and which ones are not."

The researchers also found that a significant percentage of women over the age of 75 (32.6 percent in 2009) were still getting mammograms, even though the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends against it.

According to research published in February 2013, undergoing a mammogram every two years has the same benefit as annual mammograms for women over the age of 65, with the added advantage that it leads to fewer false positives.

To learn more:
- read about the study in an announcement from Yale