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Mammograms: Computer-aided detection doesn't help

July 27, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
(Rhoda Baer / National Cancer…)

Researchers reported Wednesday that conducting breast cancer screening with computer-aided detection technology, or CAD, does not help doctors find invasive tumors, causing many women to undergo additional testing without reason -- and possibly accomplishing little to improve patient outcomes.

Radiologists found tumors at a similar stage and size whether or not they used the software, which analyzes mammograms and points out problem spots for radiologists to study more closely.

In fact, the paper, which analyzed 1.6 million mammograms taken at 90 mammography facilities in seven states between 1998 and 2006, found that using CAD "typically increased" the rate of false positive readings from 8.1% before CAD to 8.6% after computer-aided detection technology was installed, according to a news release.  

CAD is used on three out of four breast cancer screenings performed on American women, the study reported. Medicare spends more than $30 million each year to pay for use of the technology, the authors added.

The work was conducted by a team led by UC Davis professor Dr. Joshua J. Fenton and was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It followed up a study Fenton published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, which also found that CAD didn't help radiologists detect invasive breast cancers.

"In general, improvements in screening mammography lead to finding more cancers and/or decreasing the number of false-positive results," wrote Donald A. Berry, a biostatician at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in an accompanying editorial.  "A more important consideration is whether the finding improves the patient's lot."

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