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Is risk-stratified breast cancer screening economically efficient in Germany?

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JournalPLoS ONE
DateAccepted/In press - 7 May 2019
DatePublished (current) - 23 May 2019
Number of pages15
Original languageEnglish


Risk stratification has so far been evaluated under the assumption that women fully adhere to screening recommendations. However, the participation in German cancer screening programs remains low at 54%. The question arises whether risk-stratified screening is economically efficient under the assumption that adherence is not perfect.

We have adapted a micro-simulation Markov model to the German context. Annual, biennial, and triennial routine screening are compared with five risk-adapted strategies using thresholds of relative risk to stratify screening frequencies. We used three outcome variables (mortality reduction, quality-adjusted life years, and false-positive results) under the assumption of full adherence vs. an adherence rate of 54%. Strategies are evaluated using efficiency frontiers and probabilistic sensitivity analysis (PSA).

The reduced adherence rate affects both performance and cost; incremental cost-effectiveness ratios remain constant. The results of PSA show that risk-stratified screening strategies are more efficient than biennial routine screening under certain conditions. At any willingness-to-pay (WTP), there is a risk-stratified alternative with a higher likelihood of being the best choice. However, without explicit decision criteria and WTP, risk-stratified screening is not more efficient than biennial routine screening. Potential improvements in the adherence rates have significant health gains and budgetary implications.

If the participation rate for mammographic screening is as low as in Germany, stratified screening is not clearly more efficient than routine screening but dependent on the WTP. A more promising design for future stratified strategies is the combination of risk stratification mechanisms with interventions to improve the low adherence in selected high-risk groups.

Bibliographical note

©2019 Arnold et al.

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