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Study: Computer-Aided Mammograms No Better

Breast Cancer Screening Accuracy Is Similar Despite Technology; Other Studies Suggest Opposite
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 3, 2004 -- Computer-aided mammography is no more accurate in finding breast tumors than already-existing mammogram technology, according to a large new study.

The study found no significant differences in breast cancer detection or in numbers of women called back for another mammogram, writes lead researcher David Gur, ScD, a radiologist with the University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. His study appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Most experts agree that mammography screening is the best available method for detecting breast cancer. But the accuracy of mammograms has been questioned by some -- partly due to differences in performance levels among radiologists, writes Gur.

"In recent years, a major effort has been expended to develop computer-aided detection systems to assist radiologists with the diagnostic process," he writes. "The hope is that these computer-aided detection systems will improve the sensitivity of mammography."

While these computer-aided systems are FDA-approved -- and other studies have suggested that they can potentially increase cancer detection by 20% -- little evidence has been documented about their actual accuracy in clinical practice, writes Gur.

In this study, more than 115,000 mammograms were randomly assigned to either use or not use the computer-aided system. Twenty-four radiologists interpreted the mammograms over a three-year period.

Rates of breast cancer detection were similar: 3.5 per 1,000 screening examinations with and without computer-aided detection.

The number of women asked to come back for additional mammogram testing was also the same -- 12% for both groups, reports Gur.

"This finding is both remarkable and disappointing, given that computer-aided technology has been approved for use by the [FDA] and is already widely used," writes Joann G. Elmore, MD, MPH, with the University of Washington School of Medicine, in an editorial accompanying Gur's study.

Gur's results "highlight the importance of continued investigation of new screening technologies after they have received FDA approval," writes Elmore. "We hope that women's lives can ultimately be saved by this new technology."

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