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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Half the rate in the U.S.: Mammograms and physicians' learning curve

The recent change in recommended mammography screening stems from a concern that the huge number of false positive readings led too many women to get unnecessary surgery, and to feel great needless anxiety.

Doctors who read a lot of mammograms are far more accurate than those who don't. To be a mammographer, the United Kingdom requires their radiologists to read ten times more mammograms than the U.S. does. That explains why the rate of false positives (when they say there IS cancer, when there really isn’t) in the U.K. is only half the rate in the U.S. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman and others of mammograms in the U.S. confirms a similar pattern. In the largest study of its kind, they found that radiologists who read 2,500 or more mammograms each year have a false positive rate half that of radiologists who read 480 - 750 per year. And the radiologists who read the most mammograms are just as likely to detect breast cancer when it exists (in other words, their false negative rates are just as good as those of their less experienced colleagues).

Read another story about a mammogram.

Advice to women: Before your next mammogram, find a doctor who does more than 2,500 a year.

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