WINSTON-SALEM -- Radiologists can detect breast cancer with the same accuracy whether they're looking at a mammogram film or reading the image off a computer screen, according to a study conducted at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
The study, reported today (Nov. 30) at the annual meeting of the Radiologic Society of America, addresses one of the major hurdles to widespread use of digital technology to improve mammography and the detection of breast cancer.
"For digital mammography to be effective, radiologists need to be able to make the transition from reading the film version of mammograms to reading the digital version," said Jeffrey Carr, M.D., assistant professor of radiology and public health sciences. "We found there was no difference in how well the radiologists found cancers and, equally important, how well they picked out women who didn't have breast cancer."
Five radiologists who specialize in reading mammograms read a series of women's mammograms on conventional film and on specialized high-resolution computer monitors. There was no difference in their ability to detect cancer or to identify women who were cancer-free, said Carr. Their accuracy was double-checked by following the women in the study for three years to determine if they had breast cancer or not.
Mammography, an X-ray procedure for detecting breast cancer at an early stage, has reduced death rates from breast cancer by 30 percent in women over age 50. Researchers believe the use of digital mammography, which displays the image in gray tones on a computer screen, could lead to a further decrease in deaths. The technology is currently being tested in the United States.
Digital mammography allows the radiologist to magnify specific areas of an image or change the color or contrast for easier reading, especially of dense breast tissue that is difficult to image. The technology will also enable computer-aided diagnosis – having a computer program double-check the image and deliver a "second opinion" – and will allow easy, immediate transfer of a woman's mammogram records.
"The fact that radiologists can successfully read the digital images opens up a whole range of possibilities for improving the ability to see cancer," said Carr.
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