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Why a Mammogram May Miss a Tumor


WebMD Feature

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 film.
  • 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.

Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

Girl's Guide to Preventing, Avoiding, Treating, and Even Beating Cancer

By Ashley Ross and Sophie Banay MouraCancer: The word alone can paralyze us. Instead of protecting ourselves, we resort to magical thinking—it won't happen to me. That's a mistake. Rates of the top five cancers in women 20 to 39—in order, they are breast, thyroid, melanoma, cervical, and colorectal—are rising. The good news: There's a lot you can do to prevent them. We talked to the country's top doctors and mined the latest research for Marie Claire's first-ever cancer crash course. Here, how to...

Read the Girl's Guide to Preventing, Avoiding, Treating, and Even Beating Cancer article > >

"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 Houston.

Michael D. Towle writes regularly for WebMD on health and legal issues.

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