April 3, 2000 (Chantilly, Va.) -- Considered by some to be the stealth
technology of women's health care, the computer-aided second reading is now
regarded as a reliable way for doctors to look for breast abnormalities that
the naked eye may have missed.
The process converts a mammographic image into a digital signal that is
analyzed by a high-speed computer. The computer then displays the image on a
video screen, with markers pointing to areas the radiologist should check
"The computer can be programmed to look at data and pick up possible
lesions,'' said Phan Huynh, M.D., a breast imaging specialist at the University
of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. "It looks at the size and shape
of masses. It is really for detection, not diagnosis. But a computer is not
perfect either. It may pick up some stuff that may not be a concern.''
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one such device for
use in reviewing mammograms, the M1000 ImageChecker, manufactured by R2
Technology, Inc., of Los Altos, Calif.
The FDA said its studies of the ImageChecker showed use of the device would
improve a radiologist's detection rate from approximately 80 out of 100 cancers
to almost 88 out of 100. The FDA's approval, announced in June 1998, was based
on data from clinical studies in which more than 40,000 mammograms were
The technology is a precursor to digital mammography, which uses a computer
to capture x-ray images of the breast. The FDA, in late January approved GE
Medical Inc.'s Senographe 2000D digital mammography system, but cautioned that
it is no more effective than current mammography techniques.
The computerized images do have some potential advantages over the film
mammograms: They can be stored electronically so films aren't lost, adjusted
for under- or overexposure without the need for a repeat X-ray, and sent
electronically to specialists worldwide for consultation.
"Because the pictures are in a computer, the radiologist can manipulate
the image,'' said Luz Venta, M.D., Director of Breast Imaging at the Lynn Sage
Comprehensive Breast Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
"In the past, when we had an area we wanted to look at more closely, the
woman would have to come back and take another X-ray. We now hope that fewer
women will have to come back for additional views. It will save some
Michael D. Towle writes regularly for WebMD on health and