Researchers surveyed patients with low-risk breast and prostate cancer and found that, on average, more than 40 percent of them received imaging tests that were expensive and unnecessary. The figure was higher in the Northeast than elsewhere.
Dr. Danil Makarov, the study’s lead investigator, said imaging rarely proved useful for patients with those types of cancer.
“Not only are you paying for the initial test, not only is the patient wasting his or her time to go to the initial test, but it’s almost certain not to yield anything that’s going to affect how you’re ultimately going to treat the patient,” he said.
Imaging for breast and prostate cancer involves scanning for other types of cancers that may have spread in the body. Researchers said the practice is widely overused, but difficult to phase out.
Makarov, assistant professor of health policy at NYU School of Medicine, said the connection between where you live and what kind of treatment you receive is a strong one. Practice norms and medical culture may account for regional differences in the use of imaging, he said, but the issue needs further investigation.
“I don’t think it’s physicians sitting around and thinking about how they can do something wrong, or how they can do extra imaging,” he said. “I think if you talk to a lot of these physicians, they don’t know that they’re doing anything different from anyone else because they’re just doing what they always do.”
Makarov said focusing on doctor-patient relationships alone won’t solve the problem. He said policy makers need to take a deeper look at how regional factors affect health care.
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