Radio therapy

The researches find that the childhood cancers who have been treated with thoracic radiation, such as survivors of Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL); have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life compared to the general population. To mitigate this risk, current guidelines in Ontario recommend that female HL survivors undergo annual mammography and MRI screenings starting at age 30; the same for all high-risk women.

Mammography and MRI

However, Lauren Tessier and Jill Furzer (left), Ph.D. students at the Institute of Health Policy; Management and Evaluation (IHPME); led a recent study that suggested mammographic screening ;in addition to MRIs for this group is a costly strategy that provides limit additional benefits in preventing cancer compare to having an MRI alone.

“Mammograms are not as sensitive as MRI in their ability to look for new tumors; especially in women under age 50; and there is often a low compliance rate in this population of women;” said Tessier. “Our findings show that the guidelines should be more specific ;to an individual’s specific risk profile and that survivors of pediatric HL would likely benefit from starting screening earlier than age 30.”

Low compliance rate

What started as a course project for Furzer and Tessier’s graduate studies in health services research at IHPME grew into a study on real-world applications that is recently publish; in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Furzer and Tessier conducted their study by modifying an existing breast cancer natural history model for HL survivors with a high risk of developing breast cancer.

This model starts with HL survivors at age 25; who are then simulated through different screening strategies starting at either age 25 or 30 and include MRI; mammogram or both. If breast cancer is detected; the life expectancy and quality of life of these individuals and the associated health-care costs were calculated based on the frequency of screening; the timing of cancer detection and the cost of treatment.

Screening using MRI

In their findings; Furzer and Tessier found that screening with both an MRI and mammogram at age 30 is; on average, more expensive and less effective than screening using MRI only. They also found that at age 25; adding an MRI to mammography screening also added significant costs without a meaningful change in a survivor’s life expectancy or quality of life.

“Within cost-effectiveness analysis in health care, there is also a value judgement;” adds Furzer. “We are trying to determine what treatments or screening strategies provide value in terms of quality; adjusted life years for these patients; while also ensuring system sustainability in terms of public funding for these services.”