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Compressing Digital Mammograms May Improve Detection

It rids the screen of background "noise," expert explains

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Radiologists are better able to interpret digitized mammograms once they've been compressed, which strips away much of the original data and leaves behind the information that's most critical for effective breast cancer diagnosis, researchers report.

This compression technique is similar to that used to reduce the memory demand of images in digital cameras. The compression method used in this study was developed by Bradley J. Lucier, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Purdue University's College of Science, in West Lafayette, Ind.

The use of digitized mammograms and compression, along with mobile equipment and Internet connections, may help improve access to mammograms in isolated communities, the researchers say.

"Any technique that improves the performance of radiologists is helpful, but this also means that mammograms can be taken in remote places that are underserved by the medical community. The mammograms can then be sent electronically to radiologists, who can read the digitized versions knowing they will do at least as well as the original mammograms," Lucier said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues found that on seven of nine measures of diagnostic accuracy, radiologists were able to interpret compressed mammogram images more accurately than they could interpret the original mammograms, even though the compressed images contain, on average, just 2 percent of the information contained in the original mammograms.

"I want to emphasize that this study does not necessarily imply that compression always improves diagnosis. It means that radiologists can spot and localize features as well or better than before. The technology filters out the noise, if you will. But so far, there is no question that these radiologists did diagnose better using the compressed images," Lucier said.

It may be possible, with some modifications, to use this compression method with other forms of telemedicine, he said.

The study appears in the Dec. 20 issue of Radiology.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about mammograms.

SOURCE: Purdue University, news release, Dec. 20, 2005
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