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Economic analysis of the breast cancer screening program used by the UK NHS: should the program be maintained?

Authors Morton R, Sayma M, Sura MS

Received 30 September 2016

Accepted for publication 15 February 2017

Published 24 March 2017 Volume 2017:9 Pages 217—225


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Professor Pranela Rameshwar

Robert Morton,1,2 Meelad Sayma,1,3 Manraj Singh Sura,1,4

1Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London, London, 2Department of Medicine, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, 3Knowledge Spa, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, Truro, 4Department of Medicine, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

One key tool thought to combat the spiraling costs of late-stage breast cancer diagnosis is the use of breast cancer screening. However, over recent years, more effective treatments and questions being raised over the safety implications of using mammography have led to the cost-effectiveness of breast cancer screening to be highlighted as an important issue to investigate.
Methods: A cost–utility analysis was conducted to appraise the breast cancer screening program. The analysis considered the breast cancer screening program and its utility over a 20-year period, accounting for the typical breast cancer screening period taking place between the ages of 50 and 70 years. Analysis was conducted from the perspective of the UK National Health Service (NHS). This accepted NHS threshold was utilized for analysis of £20,000/quality-adjusted life year (QALY)–£30,000/QALY gain. A systematic literature review was conducted to obtain relevant financial, health, and probability outcomes pertaining to the breast cancer screening program.
Results: The mean incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) calculated was at a value of £11,546.11 with subsequent sensitivity analysis conducted around this value. Three sensitivity analyses were undertaken to evaluate ICERs of a range of scenarios which could occur as the following: 1) maximum costs at each node – £17,254/QALY; 2) all costs are fixed costs: screening center costs, and staff are paid for regardless of use – £14,172/QALY; and 3) combination of (1) and (2) to produce a worst case scenario £20,823/QALY.
Discussion and conclusion: The majority of calculations suggested that breast cancer screening is cost-effective. However, in our worst case scenario, the ICER fell near the bottom ceiling ratio. This makes it unclear whether the program should be available in the future, as more evidence becomes available over the risks of screening and as some currently expensive chemotherapy drugs begin to lose patents.

Keywords: breast cancer, screening, cost-effectiveness, economic analysis

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