To develop a basic benefit package for detection and treatment of early breast cancer by evaluating the effectiveness and costs for screening mammography, primary surgery, adjuvant therapy, and follow-up care. Published articles were retrieved through MEDLINE; additional articles were obtained through searches of their bibliographies. Cancer statistics were taken from Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program data, population statistics were taken from US Census data, and charges from 1993 Southern California Medicare fees were used to represent costs. Studies were selected on the basis of their design. Preference, in decreasing order, was given to meta-analyses of randomized trials, individual randomized clinical trials, prospective cohort studies, retrospective cohort studies, and case series. Studies were examined for the effect of the intervention on overall survival, disease-free survival, and health-related quality of life. We evaluated effects on survival in terms of number of lives saved at 10 years and average years of life saved. Costs were related to the benefits observed and modeled onto a hypothetical health care organization of 500,000 lives. Based on this analysis, we recommend a basic benefit plan for the detection and treatment of early breast cancer that would include the following: (1) screening mammography only for women aged 50 to 69 years; (2) choice of mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery with radiation therapy for all women with early breast cancer; (3) adjuvant therapy for all women at risk of recurrence; and (4) only clinical follow-up without routine testing for metastatic disease. By choosing which services they provide to specific groups of patients, providers can substantially reduce their expenses and still provide quality health benefits.
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