Radiologists Interpret Mammograms Differently

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According to a study, radiologists' ability to accurately read diagnostic mammograms varies widely -- from 27% to 100%. Radiologists who work at academic medical centers are likely to be more adept at interpreting diagnostic mammogram results. This is an important finding.

The study focused on interpreting diagnostic mammograms -- mammograms done on women who have a suspicion of breast cancer (such as an abnormal screening mammogram or a breast lump).

Radiologists working at academic medical centers accurately read diagnostic mammograms 88% of the time, compared to non-academic radiologists who accurately read diagnostic mammograms 76% of the time.

Mammograms are probably the most important tool doctors have to help them diagnose, evaluate, and follow women who've had breast cancer. But mammograms aren't perfect. Sometimes cancer is missed, a situation called a "false negative." And sometimes mammogram results are interpreted as cancer even though no cancer is present. This is called a "false positive."

False negatives can cause a critical delay in diagnosis and treatment. While not life-threatening, false positives can mean more tests and follow-up doctor visits, as well as tremendous stress and anxiety.

Not everyone has an academic medical center nearby. But that doesn't mean you can't get the excellent care you deserve. To make sure you get the most accurate mammogram reading possible, consider taking the following steps:

  • Ask healthcare professionals you trust which imaging center they recommend.
  • Insist that your new mammogram be compared with your older mammograms when it's being read. This has been shown to improve the accuracy of mammogram readings.
  • Ask if a second person routinely reviews any suspicious mammograms before a final interpretation is made. A second reading also has been shown to improve mammogram accuracy.

For more information on mammograms and other tests to detect breast cancer, visit the breastcancer.org Screening and Testing section.

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