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Needle Biopsies for Breast Lumps Save Money, Study Says

December 17, 1995| From Associated Press

CHICAGO — Testing suspicious breast lumps with needle biopsies instead of the usual surgical biopsies could save more than $1 billion annually in the United States, according to a new study.

The needle method is less painful, less disfiguring and takes much less time than surgical biopsy, doctors say. However, it is not as well established and is much less commonly performed in the United States.

"Since we introduced this new method of biopsy . . . it has rapidly become the procedure of choice for performing breast biopsies at our institution," said Dr. Steven Adler, the study's author and head of mammography at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Adler presented his analysis Nov. 29 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Stereotaxic needle-core biopsy involves taking X-rays from two angles to locate a lump precisely.

The breast is anesthetized locally, and a spring-loaded gun shoots a hollow needle into the lump.

Tissue is removed so a pathologist can determine whether it is cancerous.

The procedure takes less than an hour, unlike surgical biopsy, which can involve a half day in the hospital and general anesthesia, Adler said.

Among 234 women who received needle biopsies at his hospital during the first nine months of this year, the average bill was $1,484, Adler reported.

Only seven women during that time opted for open surgical biopsies, according to Adler.

Their average bill, he said, was $4,625.

Since only about one in every four biopsies nationwide finds a cancer, Adler calculated that the total average cost to diagnose a malignancy was $6,505 using needle biopsy, which is far below the $16,893 it costs for open surgical biopsy.

Adler estimated that nationwide savings with needle biopsies would be more than $1 billion if the procedure were applied even to half of the 200,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Doctors not involved in the research cautioned that needle biopsies will require further study before they replace surgery.

AP-WS-11-30-95 1200EST

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