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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

Inflammatory Male Breast Cancer

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.

Read the Inflammatory Male Breast 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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