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Mammograms Rise - Law Suits Follow

"An analysis showed the cost of these lawsuits could exceed $250 million in the next 10 years..."

The good news is that more women than ever are getting mammograms. Breast cancer is getting detected more often at earlier stages that makes treatment more effective.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 200,000 women in this country are diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 die from the disease every year. Two-thirds of women over 40 have had a mammogram in the past two years and as more health conscious baby boomers reach their 40's these numbers are expected to increase.

So what's the bad news?

The rush to get screened is putting a drain on many centers. The waits for an appointment can range up to several months. When mammograms are done, they often miss growing cancers.

The limits of mammography mean that many women will need treatment for suspicious areas that turn out to be benign conditions. On the other hand many women with breast cancer will be sent home - the cancer missed by the technicians and doctors reading the results.

This may be due to malpractice - it may also be due to the limits of the technology. No matter what the cause, these missed diagnosis result in treatments starting later and often mean more radical surgeries and even less promising treatment results. Outraged patients and their families often take the next logical step of filing a malpractice suit.

An analysis presented at the American Roentgen Ray Society's 2002 annual meeting in Atlanta showed the cost of these lawsuits could exceed $250 million in the next 10 years.

"This is going to be a huge public health problem," the author of the study, Dr. Richard Tello, a professor of radiology, epidemiology and biostatistics at Boston University said in an interview with a Health Scout reporter.

The analysis that Dr. Tello's team conducted assumed only one in 10 people who could sue would actually do so and the average settlement figure would be about $200,000 based on 1995 figures.

These figures are conservative, since malpractice awards have tended to rise since 1995. Even with this conservative estimate it would cost $70 for every mammogram done today simply to cover future litigation costs. If the figures were adjusted to reflect current statistics, the cost could be as high as $200 for every mammogram.

How will these costs be covered? Insurance companies will need to raise the rates for liability insurance. This added expense for radiologists will increase the cost for mammograms.

Many centers are already feeling the pinch of mammograms being reimbursed for much less than the cost to the center. Part of the cause of long waits is the many centers that have stopped doing mammograms. They cannot afford the loss that this procedure brings to their budget. This can only aggravate the problem.

Dr. Tello suggested creating a centralized, no-fault insurance pool to cover these future costs.

Although this is a solid idea to contain the costs of future lawsuits, many in the breast cancer community disagree. The answer lies not in protecting radiologists from increased liability due to a diagnostic tool that often causes breast cancer to be missed. If money is to be spent on this, it ought to be on research to find a better, more accurate way to diagnose breast cancer.

April 29, 2002, presentation, American Roentgen Ray Society annual meeting, Atlanta


Elsewhere on the Web:

Mammography Screening Is Saving Thousands of Lives, but Will It Survive Medical Malpractice?

Women, Cancer & Community Diagnosis : Malpractice

Report: Lawsuits limit cancer tests

May 12, 2002

Last Updated August 1, 2006





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