Program-specific cost-effectiveness analysis: Breast cancer screening policies for a safety-net program

Joy Melnikow, Daniel J Tancredi, Zhuo Yang, Dominique Ritley, Yun Jiang, Christina Slee, Svetlana Popova, Phillip Rylett, Kirsten Knutson, Sherie Smalley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background Every Woman Counts (EWC), a California breast cancer screening program, faced challenging budget cutbacks and policy choices. Methods A microsimulation model evaluated costs, outcomes, and cost-effectiveness of EWC program mammography policy options on coverage for digital mammography (which has a higher cost than film mammography but recent legislation allowed reimbursement at the lower film rate); screening eligibility age; and screening frequency. Model inputs were based on analyses of program claims data linked to California Cancer Registry data, Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data, and the Medi-Cal literature. Outcomes included number of procedures, cancers, cancer deaths, costs, and incremental cost per life-year. Results Projected model outcomes matched program data closely. With restrictions on the number of clients screened, strategies starting screening at age 40 years were dominated (not cost-effective). This finding was highly robust in sensitivity analyses. Compared with no screening, biennial film mammography for women aged 50 to 64 years was projected to reduce 15-year breast cancer mortality by nearly 7.8% at $18,999 per additional life-year, annual film mammography was $106,428 per additional life-year, and digital mammography $180,333 per additional life-year. This more effective, more expensive strategy was projected to reduce breast cancer mortality by 8.6%. Under equal mammography reimbursement, biennial digital mammography beginning at age 50 years was projected to decrease 15-year breast cancer mortality by 8.6% at an incremental cost per additional life-year of $17,050. Conclusions For the EWC program, biennial screening mammography starting at age 50 years was the most cost-effective strategy. The impact of digital mammography on life expectancy was small. Program-specific cost-effectiveness analysis can be completed in a policy-relevant time frame to assist policymakers faced with difficult program choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)932-941
Number of pages10
JournalValue in Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • breast cancer screening cost-effectiveness analysis health policy safety net programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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