Apr 01st 2022

One in Seven Breast Cancer Cases are "Overdiagnosed"

One in seven women diagnosed with breast cancer is “overdiagnosed,” according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. That means they were diagnosed with tumors that would’ve caused less harm if they’d remained hidden.

According to Marc Ryser, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at Duke University, “The real harm comes in this: every woman with breast cancer gets a lot of pretty harmful invasive treatments, and for a woman with overdiagnosed breast cancer, it's all for naught. She does not derive any benefit, because she would never have known about it, and she would have died with it, but not from it. She was made a cancer patient for no reason.”

In addition to the physical and mental stress of enduring unnecessary treatments, these patients also incur significant unneeded financial costs.

The good news is the study underscores the benefits of mammography – most breast cancer cases identified are true cases that need treatment. However, it also indicates the need to ensure every patient gets evidence-based cancer care that meets their individual needs.

EviCore by Evernorth's oncology solution is designed to do just that. We evaluate requests for certain cancer care services like diagnostic testing and treatments against the most up-to-date clinical guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). This step is important not only for overdiagnosed patients but for anyone going through cancer treatment.

For example, research shows that as many as 47% of cancer treatments don’t adhere to the latest scientific recommendations, which means vulnerable patients aren't getting the care they need. Additionally, the cost of cancer care is high, and it’s rising faster than costs in other medical sectors. In the U.S., the estimated total cost of cancer care was $125 billion in 2010, and it was projected to increase to $173 billion by 2020. These rising costs impact individual patients through higher deductibles, increased cost shifting and growing premiums. According to the CDC, a quarter of cancer survivors reported material hardship (e.g., problems paying medical bills), and more than one-third reported psychological hardship (e.g., worry about medical bills). Among minority racial and ethnic groups, the percentage of survivors who reported experiencing material or psychological financial hardship was even higher.

These factors, along with the new findings about the prevalence of overdiagnosis, underscore the need to ensure oncology patients get evidence-based diagnostic testing and treatment. It may help them avoid invasive, stressful and costly treatments that don’t actually help them get better.

As Katrina Armstrong, M.D., CEO of Columbia University Irving Medical Center (who did not work on the study), recently told STAT News, “…it’s still a lot of women who are undergoing treatments that aren’t needed. As a medical community we have a responsibility to reduce that harm.”