A new study on breast cancer treatment suggests using new genetic testing techniques on all newly diagnosed women could save the United States nearly $50 million in total cancer costs over the next year, according to a recent press release from Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Care.

That’s big news in the breast cancer research world, which has seen a surge in new gene-based prognostic tests, which provide a look at the molecular makeup of certain tumors. Tests such as Oncotype DX and MammaPrint can help women and their providers decide when it’s safe to forgo expensive chemotherapy, potentially saving money, time and pain.

Conducted by scientists at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute, the research set out to determine whether widespread use of the new diagnostic tests would be cost-effective within the first year of cancer diagnosis. Projected cost savings were based on two factors: an estimated 50% increased cost in gene testing and an approximately 8% expected drop in the overall cost of chemotherapy.

Investigators looked at total breast cancer costs for newly diagnosed women for several years prior to 2018. They estimated annual chemotherapy costs of around $2.7 billion, while testing with one of the most common gene testing methods, Oncotype DX, cost an estimated $115 million. The researchers also noted that only 34.8% to 57.2% of women received gene testing during this study period and wanted to see what would happen if all women were tested moving forward.

According to their calculations, if all women whose breast cancer gene test results indicated low to intermediate risk decided not to undergo chemotherapy, it could save the country nearly $338 million in initial treatment costs.

Study authors noted that the cost of gene testing is currently considerably lower than the cost of chemotherapy, rendering the 8% reduction in chemo costs significantly higher than the increased cost of testing—which would increase nearly $116 million under their research model. They also noted that the study looked only at initial treatment costs—not terminal care or continuing care for cancer patients.

“Individual women’s decisions should not be about dollars and cents, but what is right for them based on considerations of the best evidence and personal preferences,” said study author Jeanne S. Mandelblatt, MD, MPH, a professor of oncology and medicine at Georgetown Lombardi, adding, “It will be important to model the long-term outcomes and costs from diagnosis to death.”

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