SAN ANTONIO – Annual health care costs and utilization jump several-fold in nonelderly breast cancer survivors with concomitant depression, according to an analysis from the U.S. military health system.

Analysis of the records of 2,851 breast cancer survivors whose care is provided by the Department of Defense military health system indicated that 15.9% were diagnosed with depression in the time interval within 1 year prior to and 2 years after their cancer diagnosis. These dual-diagnosis patients averaged $15,471 annually in health care costs covering inpatient and outpatient services and outpatient prescriptions in the first years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, compared with $8,297 per year in those without a diagnosis of depression, Diana D. Jeffery, Ph.D., reported at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

The mean annual number of hospital admissions was tripled: 0.33 in breast cancer survivors with depression and 0.11 in survivors without depression. The dual-diagosis group averaged 1.94 hospital bed days annually, compared with 0.58 in breast cancer survivors without depression. Breast cancer survivors diagnosed with depression averaged 28 outpatient visits annually, while those without depression averaged 16.5, according to Dr. Jeffery, a senior researcher at the Defense Health Agency in Falls Church, Va.

Fifty percent of the breast cancer survivors were diagnosed with hypertension, making this the most common chronic comorbid condition. A diagnosis of depression, anxiety, adjustment, or stress disorder was present in 37.5% of the breast cancer survivors, making this group of psychiatric diagnoses the second most prevalent comorbidity. Twenty-three percent of the breast cancer survivors had received a diagnosis of heart disease, 20% had diabetes, 16% had asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 17% were obese. No demographic characteristics proved predictive of an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with depression, she said.

Of note, nearly one-half of the patients with depression had been diagnosed with the affective disorder during the year prior to receiving their breast cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Jeffery said that, while these data on health care costs and utilization in breast cancer survivors with concomitant depression are likely to be of particular interest to health plans, they also show what is likely to happen following adoption of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2014 guidelines on screening and care of depression and anxiety in adults with cancer.

The guidelines recommend that all cancer patients and cancer survivors periodically be evaluated for symptoms of depression and anxiety using validated measures across the trajectory of care to “reduce the human cost of cancer” (J. Clin. Oncol. 2014;32:1605-19).

Adoption of the depression screening guidelines will likely increase the number of breast cancer survivors with a mental health diagnosis, which, as Dr. Jeffery’s study demonstrates, will boost health care costs and utilization. On the other hand, identifying and intervening effectively in patients with mild symptoms that haven’t yet risen to the level that meets diagnostic criteria for clinical depression should yield cost savings as well as quality-of-life benefits, she added.

The Department of Defense military health system, under a health plan known as Tricare, serves 9.5 million beneficiaries in 360 military treatment clinics worldwide. It’s a system with very few restrictions upon medical-ordered cancer follow-up care, according to Dr. Jeffery.

She reported having no financial conflicts regarding this study.