The economic impact of false-positive cancer screens.
Lafata JE, Simpkins J, Lamerato L, Poisson L, Divine G, Johnson CC
OBJECTIVE: Despite the promotion and widespread use of routine cancer screening, little is known about the economic consequences of false-positive screening results. We evaluated the medical and nonmedical costs associated with false-positive prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screens.
METHOD: We identified 1,087 Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial participants enrolled in a large managed care organization. Medical care use and costs were compiled from automated sources and trial data. Nonmedical care costs to patients with a false-positive lung cancer screen were obtained by telephone interview (n = 98).
RESULTS: Forty-three percent of the study sample incurred at least one false-positive cancer screen. The majority of these patients (83%) received follow-up care. Prior to and after controlling for participant characteristics, significantly higher medical care expenditures in the year following screening were found among those with a false-positive screen. The adjusted mean difference was $1,024 for women and $1,171 for men. Among lung cancer screening patients, few nonmedical care costs were identified beyond the time (mean, 1.5 hours) spent receiving care.
CONCLUSION: The results here indicate that false-positive results among some available cancer screening tests are relatively common, that patients incurring a false-positive screen tend to receive follow-up testing, and that such follow-up is not without associated medical costs. Along with trials evaluating the health benefits of available cancer screening modalities, investigations into potential undesirable consequences of cancer screening are also warranted.