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Understanding the Repercussions of False Positive Breast Cancer Biopsies

A new study has found that false positive breast cancer biopsies are costing healthcare facilities over $2.1 billion annually. This high false positive rate and the consequential expenses highlight the need for improved breast cancer diagnostic protocols and technology.

Researchers from IBM Watson Health and Seno Medical looked at health care claims filed between 2011 and 2015 from 875,000 women to understand the rate of follow-up procedures after mammography and breast exams. They found that between 2012 and 2015, 8,732,909 patients received diagnostic mammograms, 6,987,399 underwent breast ultrasounds, and 1,585,856 had biopsies. The total of the procedures amounted to $7.91 billion for follow-up breast diagnostic imaging exams. The researchers calculated that the average cost of a breast biopsy as $1,938, an estimate which excluded ancillary services. With a false-positive rate of 71 percent, ultimately these incorrect diagnoses generate $2.18 billion in expenses.

“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,” said Thomas Stavros, MD, radiology professor at University of Texas Health Sciences Center and chief medical officer at Seno Medical.

Although these false-positives take a toll on facilities finances, they’re also a significant source of emotional stress for women. “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,” Dr. Stavros said.

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