Computer-Aided Mammogram Reading Leads to More False Positives

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A study found that using computers to help read mammograms leads to more false positives and more unnecessary biopsies—without finding a significant number of additional breast cancers.

While this isn't good news, it doesn't mean that we should completely give up on computer-aided detection.

It's important to know that computer-aided detection IS NOT digital mammography.

In computer-aided detection, a computer program is used to highlight areas on the mammogram image that may be abnormal. A radiologist looks at the highlighted areas and decides if you need more tests or not.

The computer highlights areas that MAY be abnormal. The radiologist has to decide if the areas really are abnormal. Computer-aided detection is not the same as having a second radiologist look at the mammogram. It's still only one radiologist looking at the mammogram. An additional read by a second radiologist improves detection and reduces false positives.

New technology offers much promise, but there is always a learning curve. In this case, doctors may be relying too much on the computer-aided detection results. Or they may be intimidated by the computer's results and may be hesitant to question what the computer says.

Computer-aided detection shouldn't be abandoned because of this study. Instead, we should use these results to study how doctors use computer-aided detection. By comparing the computer-aided detection results with the pathologic findings from any biopsies that are done, doctors can learn more about the best way to evaluate areas that computer-aided detection highlights. This could help doctors more accurately use computer-aided detection results and make mammograms better screening tools for all women.

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