The first few months (or years) after a breast cancer diagnosis can be nerve-wracking for patients. After an unrelenting merry-go-round of blood tests, scans, surgeries, chemo infusions and radiation blasts, everything comes to a screeching halt. The oncologist tells the patient to go home, to heal and to come back in three months, then six months, then a year. But in-between those checkups, a host of questions arise.
Is this normal? Is that normal? And the biggest question of all: Has the cancer come back?
Patients, anxious for answers, may push for tumor-marker tests or advanced imaging tests like PET or CT scans even though they’re not exhibiting any signs of a recurrence. Oncologists – or even primary care physicians – will also order tests for asymptomatic patients to provide peace of mind for everybody, including themselves.
But these tests can come with a cost, monetary and otherwise: over-testing can lead to misdiagnosis, overtreatment, unnecessary exposure to radiation and even more anxiety for those patients who receive a false positive result. Testing when not warranted doesn’t necessarily help cancer patients; in fact, it may simply drive up the economic – and human – burden of cancer care.
But what can be done about it? And where do you start?
The Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, or HICOR, plunged into this financial fray yet again on Monday at its second annual Value in Cancer Care Summit, a working meeting designed to address just these kinds of care and cost-focused issues.