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Breast Cancer Health Center

Digital Mammograms Won't Make Screening More Comfortable

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"The patients have a misconception of digital mammography," Orel says. "The discomfort is just the same; it's really the same type of equipment."

Not only that, but she and Roubidoux also say that if you've found you have to schedule your annual breast cancer screening months in advance then wait for a long time for results, don't expect the new equipment to ease that backup.

"The digital imaging doesn't make me any faster," says Roubidoux, a radiology associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. "It may even take me longer." She and Orel explain that this is due to one of the advantages of the new technology: the ability to manipulate the image in order to see it better.

The wait for appointments and readings also is affected by the difficulty in finding radiologists who specialize in mammography and breast care, she explains. This is partially because the responsibility to the patients and the governmental regulatory and legal demands placed on doctors make it a complicated and demanding profession.

"Patients expect perfection, but we're trying to diagnose with imperfect methods," she says, comparing the pressure of the specialty with that faced by air traffic controllers. "It's a very interesting specialty, but a lot of radiologists would just as soon not be in that pressure cooker."

Many healthcare facilities don't have a radiologist who deals only with breast care because it's not economically feasible, says Orel. The result is longer waits for mammograms or traveling farther to get them.

In addition, the equipment is expensive, with the digital machines costing about $500,000 and traditional ones a fifth of that. Even without spending the money for the latest technology, medical facilities don't cover their costs for doing breast screening, say Orel and Roubidoux.

"Breast centers are closing because the reimbursement is so bad for mammography radiology," says Orel. "We can't even pay our costs. It is a concern that there will be a crisis in breast care."

But she and Roubidoux say that government regulations covering the type and condition of the equipment used ensure that you will get good mammograms.

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