The effect of imaging on the clinical management of breast pain

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Jul;27(7):817-24. doi: 10.1007/s11606-011-1982-4. Epub 2012 Jan 31.


Background: Breast pain is a common complaint to primary care and breast specialists. Literature recommends imaging to provide reassurance of benign etiology. The effect of imaging on reassurance and subsequent healthcare utilization has not been described.

Objective: To determine if initial imaging for breast pain reduces subsequent utilization.

Design: Retrospective cohort study at a hospital-based breast health practice.

Patients: Women referred for breast pain from 2006-2009.

Main measures: Imaging ordered at initial provider visit; clinical utilization, defined as the number of follow-up visits, diagnostic imaging studies, and biopsies completed within 12 months following initial visit.

Key results: Sixty-percent of women were age 40 or younger, 87% were from racial/ethnic minority groups. Twenty-five percent had imaging ordered at initial visit. Of those who received initial imaging, 75% had normal radiographic findings, yet 98% returned for additional evaluation. In adjusted analyses, women with initial imaging had increased clinical services utilization (OR 25.4, 95% CI: 16.7, 38.6). Women with normal clinical breast exams who received initial imaging exhibited increased odds for subsequent clinical services utilization (OR 23.8, 95% CI: 12.9, 44.0). Six cancers were diagnosed; imaging in the absence of clinical breast exam abnormalities did not result in any cancer identification.

Conclusions: Initial imaging for women with breast pain increased the odds of subsequent clinical utilization and did not increase reassurance in ruling out malignancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety
  • Biopsy / statistics & numerical data
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care / methods
  • Mammography / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography, Mammary / statistics & numerical data