Newborn screening for cystic fibrosis saves on treatment costs and would offset the actual costs of the screening program. This new economic evidence suggests that universal newborn screening programs for cystic fibrosis should be adopted internationally, according to an article in this week’s issue of The Lancet.

The study also showed that newborn cystic fibrosis screening reduced hospital admissions for invasive therapy.

In some regions newborn babies have been screened for cystic fibrosis for more than 25 years, and early diagnosis is associated with improvements in some clinical outcomes. Furthermore, the clinical benefit of those screened as newborn babies is associated with a lower treatment burden compared with clinically diagnosed groups. Whether these potential cost savings attributed to reduced therapeutic requirements would offset the cost of a newborn screening program had not previously been studied.

Erika Sims, PhD, (University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK) and colleagues from the University of Dundee, UK, used data from the UK cystic fibrosis database for 2002 to compare the treatment costs of 184 children aged 1 to 9 years who had cystic fibrosis that was identified by newborn screening with those of 950 children in the same age-group, who were identified after clinical presentation of the disease. Patients diagnosed by newborn screening cost significantly less to treat than those who were diagnosed clinically. Patients diagnosed on the basis of clinical presentation alone received therapy costing an estimated 60% – 400% more than patients diagnosed by newborn screening.

“Newborn screening is associated with lower estimated treatment costs and reduced hospital admissions for invasive therapy, which suggests that indirect costs and disruption to family life will also be less.” The authors conclude, “Furthermore, the potential cost savings to the yearly treatment budget could offset some, if not all, of the costs of a newborn screening service.”