Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Mammograms No Better With Computer's Help

Study Shows Computer-Assisted Mammograms Are More Costly, but not More Effective
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 27, 2011 -- Commonly used computer-assisted detection (CAD) makes mammograms more costly -- but not better at finding cancers, a large-scale study finds.

CAD is now used to help interpret three-fourths of mammograms in the U.S. It adds 9% to 15% to the cost of a mammogram.

Despite the extra cost, CAD doesn't improve breast cancer detection or help find cancers at a more favorable stage for treatment, according to an analysis of some 685,000 women who underwent more than 1.6 million mammograms.

"In real-world practice, our study suggests CAD has little impact on the outcomes of screening mammography," study leader Joshua J. Fenton, MD, MPH, of the University of California, Davis, tells WebMD.

Fenton's team compared mammograms read with and without computer-assisted detection. They found that:

  • CAD slightly increased the number of false-positive mammograms -- that is, it increased the number of women called back for further testing who turned out not to have breast cancer.
  • CAD did not increase the detection rate of more dangerous or invasive breast cancers.

"The way it is currently used in practice, CAD will slightly increase a woman's chance of unnecessary recall for further testing, but probably does not affect the chance it will detect early breast cancer," Fenton says.

The problem isn't so much with CAD as with the people using it, says Robert A. Smith, PhD, director of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society. Smith was not involved in the Fenton study.

"CAD is not a substitute for competence in reading mammograms," Smith tells WebMD. "CAD is not an autopilot. It is an aid. It can be very effective if you are good at reading mammograms. But if you are not a capable reader, it will result in what Fenton found: more false positives and no improvement in finding more subtle cancers."

Another problem has less to do with CAD than with the limits of what mammograms can detect, suggests Donald A. Berry, PhD, head of the division of quantitative sciences at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Berry's editorial accompanies the Fenton study in the Aug. 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow