Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Don't count on mammograms

The latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine makes it clear that breast cancer screening via mammograms is a most imperfect science. An editorialist notes that "screening mammography is also the most common basis for lawsuits in radiology, which is not surprising, since 25 to 50% of cases of breast cancer are identified retrospectively on the previous annual screening mammogram."

In other words, when cancer is discovered in a woman's breast, at least 1 in 4 of the tumors can be seen on review of the previous year's mammogram films. Dr. Ferris Hall of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston goes on to note:

Screening mammography, a particularly stressful task for radiologists, is associated with a relatively high rate of burnout. For all these reasons, residents have avoided this field for decades, leaving a shortfall of fellowship-trained mammographers, many of whom are older and overworked.

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