An investigation into the frequency of mammograms and their cost found that healthy women older than 65 years of age benefit from having a mammogram every 2 years and that it is cost-effective. Researchers from the Cost Work Group of the US Preventive Services Task Force said that almost half of all new cases of breast cancer, and nearly two thirds of deaths, occur in women 65 or older. It has been unclear whether mammography is cost-effective for older women, however.
In reviewing cost-effectiveness studies published between 1989 and 2002 that evaluated breast cancer screening after age 65, the researchers found 10 studies that they identified as "fairly consistent." The additional cost of continuing mammography after age 65 totals $34,000 to $88,000 for every year of life it saves.Typically, a cost of $50,000 per life-year saved is considered economically justifiable. The researchers pointed out, however, that relative costs and harm may outweigh the benefits for women with other illnesses that limit their life expectancy to <5 years. (The findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, November 18, 2003.)