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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Dec;13(12):2126-32.

The economic impact of false-positive cancer screens.

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  • 1Center for Health Services Research, Henry Ford Health System, 1 Ford Place, 3A, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.



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.


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).


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.


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.

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