A study found that two different ways to read mammograms both were good at finding breast cancer:
- In computer-aided detection, one radiologist uses a computer program to help find breast cancer in a mammogram.
- In double reading, two different radiologists read the mammogram. They don't use a computer program.
More than 31,000 mammograms were evaluated in this large study. About half of the mammograms were evaluated using computer-aided detection. The other mammograms were evaluated using double reading. Both ways of reading mammograms found breast cancer about 87% of the time.
This study was done in Europe, where double reading is common. Double reading is less common in the United States. Other research has found that double reading improves breast cancer detection and reduces false positives. A false positive means a mammogram reading finds an abnormal area that looks like cancer but turns out to be normal. Besides worrying about being diagnosed with breast cancer, a false positive means more tests and follow-up doctor visits. The process can be extremely stressful and upsetting.
Computer-aided detection uses a computer program to highlight areas on the mammogram that may be abnormal. A radiologist looks at the highlighted areas and decides if more tests are needed. Some research has shown that computer-aided detection increases the risk of a false positive. Still, in this study the risk of a false positive was the same for both ways to read mammograms -- about 3.5%.
Because computer-aided detection requires only one radiologist rather than the two radiologists needed for double reading, computer-aided detection can be a less expensive way to improve mammogram accuracy.
Breast cancer screening isn't perfect, but it is the best way to find breast cancer early, when it's most treatable. As you and your doctor plan your breast cancer screening program, consider the following:
- Are any of the mammography centers you can go to better than another?
- Is digital mammography available? Research has shown that digital mammography, which uses a computer instead of x-ray film to make the breast image, can be more accurate than film-based mammography.
- Insist that your most recent mammogram is compared to your older mammograms when it's being read. This has been shown to improve the accuracy of mammogram readings.
- Ask if a second radiologist routinely reviews any suspicious mammograms before a final interpretation is made. Second readings have 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.