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AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2018 Jul;211(1):217-223. doi: 10.2214/AJR.17.18879. Epub 2018 May 24.

Overutilization of Health Care Resources for Breast Pain.

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1 Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Division of Diagnostic Imaging, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd, Unit 1459, Houston, TX 77030.



The objective of this study is to analyze the incidence of women with breast pain who present to an imaging center and assess the imaging findings, outcomes, and workup costs at breast imaging centers affiliated with one institution.


Demographic characteristics of and imaging findings for female patients presenting with breast pain at three community breast imaging centers between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014, were reviewed. Patients who were pregnant, were lactating, had a history of breast cancer, or presented with palpable nipple or skin findings were excluded.


A total of 799 patients met the study criteria. Pain was diffuse in 30%, was focal in 30%, and was not localized in 40%. Of the 799 patients with breast pain, 790 (99%) presented for a diagnostic evaluation; 759 (95%) of these evaluated patients had negative findings. A benign sonographic correlate was detected in the area of pain in 5% of patients (39/799). One patient had a single cancer detected in the contralateral asymptomatic breast. When correlations between breast pain and the presence of cancer in the study patients were compared with the concurrent cancer detection rate in the screening population (5.5 cases per 1000 examinations performed), breast pain was not found to be a sign of breast cancer (p = 0.027). Patients younger than 40 years (316/799) underwent a total of 454 workup studies for breast pain; all findings were benign, and the cost of these studies was $87,322. Patients 40 years or older (483/799) underwent 745 workup studies, for a cost of $152,732.


Breast pain represents an area of overutilization of health care resources. For female patients who present with pure breast pain, breast imaging centers should consider the following imaging protocols and education for referring physicians: an annual screening mammogram should be recommended for women 40 years or older, and reassurance without imaging should be offered to patients younger than 40 years.


MRI; breast; cost analysis; mammography; pain; ultrasound


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