Breast cancer detection through mammograms has improved, study finds

While many medical professionals continue to debate the effectiveness of mammograms for women prior to age 50, a new study concludes that such tests are becoming more precise in their ability to "detect and intercept" breast cancer, the Group Health Research Institute recently announced. 

Data from more than 2.5 million screenings for more than 970,000 women ages 40 to 79 determined that by 2004, radiologists were able to correctly identify cancerous lesions in women nearly 84 percent of the time, up from 71.4 percent in 1996. While over the same time period, the accuracy with which radiologists correctly identified non-cancerous lesions decreased from 93.6 percent in 1996 to 91.7 percent in 2004, researchers were not overly concerned with the "false-positive test results." 

"This is good news for women and for radiology that we have seen a net improvement in how radiologists interpret mammograms," said Laura Ichikawa, MS, the study's lead author. "Radiologists are doing a better job of discriminating cancer from non-cancer." 

Improved technology also likely played a big part in those improved rates. To that end, a new experimental 3-D scanner being used at Emory University in Atlanta is helping radiologists find cancer when mammograms can't, reports KABC in Los Angeles. 

The scanner--one of five in the U.S., currently--helps doctors to get a 3-D image of a breast that is reconstructed through cone-shaped X-ray beams and a digital flat panel detector. 

"Once it has all that information, it can reconstruct the breast in any angle or any way that you want without losing any properties of resolution," Dr. Carl D'orsi, director of Breast Imaging Research at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute, told KABC

To learn more about the study or the new scanner:
- check out this press release
- here's the study's abstract
- read and/or watch the KABC piece