Practice Improves Mammogram Diagnosis

Doctors who read the most images are most accurate, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, March 2, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The adage "practice makes perfect" may hold true for mammography, too: A new study suggests doctors become more accurate at interpreting mammograms as their experience increases.

Increasing the minimum number of mammograms a physician is required to read annually could improve his or her success at locating tumors, say researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The findings appear in the March 2 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

U.S. doctors specializing in breast cancer are required by law, under the Mammography Quality Standards Act, to read at least 960 mammograms over a two-year period to maintain their qualifications for that task.

That number can be much higher in other countries, however. In Great Britain, for example, doctors are required to interpret 10 times that number per year.

Examining data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium and the American Medical Association Masterfile, the researchers found that the most accurate doctors were those who read between 2,500 and 4,000 mammograms per year and performed more regular screening mammography, rather than just diagnostic mammography.

Those doctors had 50 percent fewer incorrect diagnoses of cancer (false positives) than less-experienced physicians, and they missed only about one cancer per 2,500 examinations.

"Raising the annual volume requirements in the Mammography Quality Standards Act might improve the overall quality of screening mammography in the United States," the study authors concluded.

More information

The National Library of Medicine has more about mammography.

SOURCES: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, March 1, 2005

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