April 3, 2000 (Chantilly, Va.) -- Medical experts say there are several
reasons why a mammogram may fail to detect a cancerous tumor:
The technology. Mammograms involve squeezing a woman's breast between two
plates of glass -- a technique that is awkward at best. Old or badly maintained
equipment and poorly trained technicians can increase the odds of an inaccurate
The quality of a woman's breast. Mammograms aren't good at detecting
cancers in breast tissue that is dense or fibrous, as is common among female
athletes and premenopausal women.
The pace of medicine. With radiologists under pressure to read more films
more quickly, the risk of making mistakes has grown.
Studies on mammogram accuracy show that screenings miss anywhere from 5% to
17% of abnormalities. Yet many patients continue to believe that a
"clear" mammogram is the same as a clean bill of health.
In inflammatory breast cancer, cancer has spread to the skin of the breast and the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm. The redness and warmth occur because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin. The skin of the breast may also show the dimpled appearance called peau d'orange (like the skin of an orange). There may not be any lumps in the breast that can be felt. Inflammatory breast cancer may be stage IIIB, stage IIIC, or stage IV.
"Even though there is no perfect test, and no perfect doctor, and no
perfect reading, patients expect perfect results,'' says Phan Huynh, M.D., a
breast imaging specialist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in
Michael D. Towle writes regularly for WebMD on health and