Importance: Based on randomized evidence, expert guidelines in 2011 endorsed shorter, hypofractionated whole breast irradiation (WBI) for selected patients with early-stage breast cancer and permitted hypofractionated WBI for other patients.
Objectives: To examine the uptake and costs of hypofractionated WBI among commercially insured patients in the United States.
Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective, observational cohort study, using administrative claims data from 14 commercial health care plans covering 7.4% of US adult women in 2013, we classified patients with incident early-stage breast cancer treated with lumpectomy and WBI from 2008 and 2013 into 2 cohorts: (1) the hypofractionation-endorsed cohort (n = 8924) included patients aged 50 years or older without prior chemotherapy or axillary lymph node involvement and (2) the hypofractionation-permitted cohort (n = 6719) included patients younger than 50 years or those with prior chemotherapy or axillary lymph node involvement.
Exposures: Hypofractionated WBI (3-5 weeks of treatment) vs conventional WBI (5-7 weeks of treatment).
Main outcomes and measures: Use of hypofractionated and conventional WBI, total and radiotherapy-related health care expenditures, and patient out-of-pocket expenses. Patient and clinical characteristics included year of treatment, age, comorbid disease, prior chemotherapy, axillary lymph node involvement, intensity-modulated radiotherapy, practice setting, and other contextual variables.
Results: Hypofractionated WBI increased from 10.6% (95% CI, 8.8%-12.5%) in 2008 to 34.5% (95% CI, 32.2%-36.8%) in 2013 in the hypofractionation-endorsed cohort and from 8.1% (95% CI, 6.0%-10.2%) in 2008 to 21.2% (95% CI, 18.9%-23.6%) in 2013 in the hypofractionation-permitted cohort. Adjusted mean total health care expenditures in the 1 year after diagnosis were $28,747 for hypofractionated and $31,641 for conventional WBI in the hypofractionation-endorsed cohort (difference, $2894; 95% CI, $1610-$4234; P < .001) and $64,273 for hypofractionated and $72,860 for conventional WBI in the hypofractionation-permitted cohort (difference, $8587; 95% CI, $5316-$12,017; P < .001). Adjusted mean total 1-year patient out-of-pocket expenses were not significantly different between hypofractionated vs conventional WBI in either cohort.
Conclusions and relevance: Hypofractionated WBI after breast conserving surgery increased among women with early-stage breast cancer in 14 US commercial health care plans between 2008 and 2013. However, only 34.5% of patients with hypofractionation-endorsed and 21.2% with hypofractionation-permitted early-stage breast cancer received hypofractionated WBI in 2013.