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The high cost of follow-up breast imaging: A barrier to early cancer detection

breast imaging

Recent research reveals a concerning trend: approximately 21% of patients might skip crucial follow-up breast imaging after an abnormal mammogram due to deductible costs. This decision could delay early detection of breast cancer, significantly impacting patient outcomes.

Understanding the financial barriers

A study conducted at Boston Medical Center surveyed 714 individuals, finding that a significant portion would opt out of further diagnostic tests if they involved out-of-pocket expenses. This highlights a stark reality: the cost of health care can deter patients from pursuing necessary medical follow-ups.

Impact on breast cancer diagnosis

Skipping follow-up imaging after an abnormal mammogram can lead to late-stage cancer diagnoses. While 80% of these mammograms do not result in a cancer diagnosis, the remaining 20% do, and not following up with additional tests can have dire consequences.

Demographic disparities

The study also noted that lower-income individuals, those with less education, non-white populations, and those without insurance or on Medicaid are more likely to skip necessary imaging due to costs. This not only affects individual health outcomes but also widens existing health disparities.

Possible solutions

Experts suggest redefining what qualifies as a preventative test could alleviate some financial burdens. If follow-up imaging were classified as preventative rather than diagnostic, insurance might cover the costs, reducing the financial barrier for patients.

Additionally, health care providers and patients are encouraged to discuss coverage details with insurance companies and explore different insurance options to ensure comprehensive coverage for both initial screenings and necessary follow-ups.


Addressing the cost barrier for follow-up breast imaging is crucial for early cancer detection and improving survival rates. It requires both individual action and systemic changes to ensure that all patients, regardless of their economic status, have access to necessary medical care without financial strain.