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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Just bring the patients back: Digital mammograms to detect breast cancer

Nancy Liber, a radiologic [mammography] technician at a center that just acquired new digital mammography equipment, was called back by her own colleagues at the center after her mammogram last month.

"I thought exactly what every woman does," she said. "Immediately you panic and think, 'Oh my gosh, what if something is really wrong?!'" She found herself worrying about what would happen if she became ill and unable to take care of her children. She did not even tell her husband what had happened until after the second test, which turned out normal. The concerns were due entirely to the difference between film and digital images. Despite the stressful experience, she said that from what she had seen in her work, digital mammograms were the way to go. "The inconvenience it may cause is worth it. But I definitely know what these women are going through [from the many additional mammograms that physicians are requesting as they learn how to interpret the new digital mammograms]."

Doctors are learning how to interpret images from the digital machines that are replacing the older equipment. One physician explained to her audience of radiologists: "When you first start out, you may feel a little anxious and recall more patients because everything looks like a cancer to you. It's OK. Just bring the patients back. It's part of the learning curve." She said it could take six months to a year to interpret the new images.

The physician at Nancy Liber’s clinic commented, “" know it's not a small thing, the anxiety. Patients are practically in tears because they're so worried. But I think in the long run it's going to be to everybody’s benefit."

Advice to women getting digital mammograms: You might worry less if you realize that doctors are being extra-cautious as they learn how to use the new equipment. To be on the safe side, they're bringing in many women for additional images, and only in hindsight do they realize that was unnecessary.

Read another mammography story

Thanks to Denise Grady for her source story in today's NY Times.

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