The cost-effectiveness of low dose mammography - A decision-analytic approach
With 7 000 new cases in Sweden each year, breast cancer represents 30 percent of all female malignancies and is therefore the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. There are limitations as to what can be done to prevent the disease but with the use of mammography screening the chances of finding and treating the disease at an early stage are increasing. Unfortunately, mammography screening is associated with radiation, which is an established risk factor for developing breast cancer. However, the newest screening technologies come with a reduced dose which decreases the risk of developing breast cancer due to the radiation.
The effects of this lower dose compared to that of traditional technologies have not yet been studied and the purpose of this paper is therefore to assess the cost-effectiveness of the use of this new technology, with a focus on the number of radiation-induced cancers. A cost-utility analysis was performed where three different mammography technologies (one analogue and two digital) were compared. The total costs and QALYs of breast cancer generated by the use of these three technologies were calculated with the use of a Markov decision-analytic model, where a cohort of hypothetical 40 year-old women was followed throughout life.
The results of the analysis showed that with the new digital technology (the PC-DR), one in 14 100 screened women develops breast cancer due to radiation while with the traditional mammography systems (SFM and the CR) this number is one in 3 500 and 4 300 screened women, respectively. Consequently, the number of induced cancers is decreased with up to 75 percent with the use of the PC-DR. Assuming that only the radiation dose differs between the three units, the analysis resulted in an incremental effect of 0.000269 QALYs over a life-time for the PC-DR when compared to SFM(0.000210 QALYs compared to the CR). The PC-DR was also associated with a 33 SEK (26 SEK) lower cost. Thus, if the only difference can be found in radiation dose, the PC-DR is the dominating technology to use since it is both more effective and costs less. However, it is possible that the PC-DR is more expensive per screening occasion than the other technologies and if so, the PC-DR would no longer be less costly. The study found that the scope for the possibility of excessive pricing is very small and under these circumstances, the willingness to pay for a QALY has to be considered when deciding what technology to invest in.
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