Researchers estimate false-positive breast biopsies cost US healthcare system more than $2B annually

False-positive breast biopsies cost the U.S. healthcare system approximately $2.18 billion each year, according to a study published in ClinicoEconomics and Outcomes Research.

The authors examined medical claims data from 2011 to 2015, using a sample of more than 875,000 patients. They also estimated the annual mean costs associated with diagnostic mammography, ultrasounds and biopsies to be $3.05 billion, $0.92 billion and $3.07 billion, respectively.

Study co-author A. Thomas Stavros, MD, with the department of radiology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio and chief medical officer of San Antonio-based Seno Medical, commented on the high costs associated with false-positive breast biopsies in a prepared statement from Seno Medical.  

“The costs to the healthcare system are secondary to the psychological impact on women who are told that their mammogram and ultrasound were inconclusive, and that a biopsy is required to rule out cancer,” Stavros said. “Conscientious clinicians rightly want to confirm that a mass is not malignant, so the guidelines and clinical practice aren't at fault. It's simply that technology—as advanced as it has become—still needs further refinement to provide better specificity without sacrificing sensitivity and to engender increased diagnostic confidence for the clinician. There are significant volumes and costs of procedures required to reach a definitive, 'yes,' that breast cancer does or does not exist.”

Stavros and colleagues noted that more than 49 percent of all breast diagnostic patients were later recalled for a second diagnostic procedure. More than 20 percent had three diagnostic procedures, and another 10 percent had four.

“Although the technologies have evolved, diagnostic modalities providing better specificity and greater diagnostic confidence can have great potential impact on lowering health care expenditures and shortening the patient’s diagnostic journey,” the authors wrote.