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Pediatrics. 2001 Aug;108(2):255-63.

Children with headache suspected of having a brain tumor: a cost-effectiveness analysis of diagnostic strategies.

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Neuroradiology, and Health Outcomes and Policy Section, Department of Radiology, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.



To assess the clinical and economic consequences of 3 diagnostic strategies-magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography followed by MRI for positive results (CT-MRI), and no neuroimaging with close clinical follow-up-in the evaluation of children with headache suspected of having a brain tumor. Three risk groups based on clinical variables were evaluated.


A decision-analytic Markov model and cost-effectiveness analysis was performed incorporating the risk group prior probability, MRI and CT sensitivity and specificity, tumor survival, progression rates, and cost per strategy. Outcomes were based on quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained and incremental cost per QALY gained.


For low-risk children with chronic nonmigraine headaches of >6 months' duration as the sole symptom (prior probability of brain tumor 0.01%), no neuroimaging with close clinical follow-up was less costly and more effective than the 2 neuroimaging strategies. For the intermediate-risk children with migraine headache and normal neurologic examination (prior probability of brain tumor 0.4%), CT-MRI was the most effective strategy but cost >$1 million per QALY gained compared with no neuroimaging. For high-risk children with headache of <6 months' duration and other clinical predictors of a brain tumor such as an abnormal neurologic examination (prior probability of brain tumor 4%), the most effective strategy was MRI, with cost-effectiveness ratio of $113 800 per QALY gained compared with no imaging.


Our analysis suggests that MRI maximizes QALY gained at a reasonable cost-effectiveness ratio in children with headache at high risk of having a brain tumor. Conversely, the strategy of no imaging with close clinical follow-up is cost saving in low-risk children. Although the CT-MRI strategy maximizes QALY gained in the intermediate-risk patients, its additional cost per QALY gained is high. In children with headache, appropriate selection of patients and diagnostic strategy may maximize quality-adjusted life expectancy and decrease costs of medical workup.

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