Hypofractionated Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer: Financial Risk and Expenditures in the United States, 2008 to 2017

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2022 Mar 1;112(3):654-662. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2021.10.005. Epub 2021 Oct 9.


Purpose: Rising cancer care expenditures and technological advancement of shorter radiation therapy regimens have drawn significant attention to the use of hypofractionated radiation therapy in clinical care. We examine the costs of hypofractionated whole breast irradiation (HF-WBI) compared with conventional whole breast irradiation (CF-WBI) in the United States and investigate the influences of patient characteristics and commercial insurance on HF-WBI use.

Methods and materials: In a retrospective study using private employer-sponsored insurance claims, a pooled cross-sectional evaluation of radiation therapy in patients with commercial insurance was performed from 2008 to 2017. The study population included female patients with early-stage breast cancer treated with lumpectomy and whole breast irradiation.

Results: A total of 15,869 women received HF-WBI, and 59,328 received CF-WBI. HF-WBI use increased from 2008 to 2017. Community-level factors such as a higher proportion of college graduates and greater mixed racial composition were associated with increased HF-WBI use. Mean insurer-paid radiation therapy expenditures were significantly lower for HF-WBI versus CF-WBI (adjusted difference, $6375; 95% confidence interval, $6147-$6603). Mean patient out-of-pocket expenditure for HF-WBI was $139 less than that for CF-WBI. Geographic variation existed across the United States in HF-WBI use (range, 9.6%-36.2%), with no consistent relationship between HF-WBI use and corresponding average cost differences between HF-WBI and CF-WBI.

Conclusions: If trends continue, HF-WBI will soon become the dominant form of radiation treatment in the United States. Although HF-WBI represents significant savings to the health care system and individual patients, no evidence indicated that a financial disincentive had slowed adoption of HF-WBI. Therefore, multilevel approaches, including individuals, the community, and health policy, should be used to promote cost-effective cancer care. Innovations to policies on cost-effective radiation therapy treatment might consider non-financial incentives to promote HF-WBI use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy, Segmental
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States