Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer affecting women in the United States, where every year more than 20 million mammograms are performed. Breast biopsy is commonly performed on the suspicious findings on mammograms to confirm the presence of cancer. Currently, 700,000 biopsies are performed annually in the U.S.; 55%-85% of these biopsies ultimately are found to be benign breast lesions, resulting in unnecessary treatments, patient anxiety, and expenditures. This paper addresses the decision problem faced by radiologists: When should a woman be sent for biopsy based on her mammographic features and demographic factors? This problem is formulated as a finite-horizon discrete-time Markov decision process. The optimal policy of our model shows that the decision to biopsy should take the age of patient into account; particularly, an older patient's risk threshold for biopsy should be higher than that of a younger patient. When applied to the clinical data, our model outperforms radiologists in the biopsy decision-making problem. This study also derives structural properties of the model, including sufficiency conditions that ensure the existence of a control-limit type policy and nondecreasing control-limits with age.
Chhatwal, Jagpreet Alagoz, Oguzhan Burnside, Elizabeth S R21 CA129393-01A1/CA/NCI NIH HHS/United States R21 CA129393-02/CA/NCI NIH HHS/United States UL1 RR025011/RR/NCRR NIH HHS/United States UL1 RR025011-01/RR/NCRR NIH HHS/United States UL1 RR025011-02/RR/NCRR NIH HHS/United States UL1 RR025011-03/RR/NCRR NIH HHS/United States UL1 RR025011-04/RR/NCRR NIH HHS/United States UL1 RR025011-05/RR/NCRR NIH HHS/United States Oper Res. 2010 Nov 1;58(6):1577-1591.