Objective: To study the costs and effects of incorporating ultrasonography in the triple assessment of palpable breast masses.
Methods: A decision analytic model was designed to compare a conventional strategy of performing fine-needle aspiration cytology after clinical examination and mammography, with three different experimental strategies of preceding ultrasonography. Empirical data were used from a prospective study in 522 breasts in 492 patients with a palpable mass, including 93 malignancies. In strategy 1, cases with probably benign, suspect malignant, and malignant ultrasonography results were referred for fine-needle aspiration cytology; in strategy 2, benign cases were also referred for fine-needle aspiration cytology; and in strategy 3, ultrasonography was only performed in patients with benign results on clinical examination and mammography, whereas immediate fine-needle aspiration cytology was performed in patients with suspicious lesions. Outcome variables included the total costs and the expected number of life years. Sensitivity analysis was performed on all parameters in the model.
Results: All strategies reported a similar life expectancy of 31.0 years. Cost-minimization demonstrated that experimental strategy 3 was the least expensive strategy (€ 3,013). Experimental strategy 2 was the most costly one (€ 3,512). Compared with the conventional strategy of immediate fine-needle aspiration cytology (€ 3,087), both ultrasonography strategies 1 and −3 were preferred.
Conclusions: Incorporating ultrasonography in the triple assessment of palpable breast masses can result in a reduction of the total costs for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.