Interpretations of Mammograms Vary
A new article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looks at the interpreation of diagnostic mammograms at 53 facilities across the United States. Dr. Sara Jackson at the University of Washington School of Medicine and her co-authors write that:
Background: Interpretive performance of screening mammography varies substantially by facility, but performance of diagnostic interpretation has not been studied.......
Conclusions: Variation in diagnostic mammography interpretation exists across facilities. Failure to adjust for patient characteristics when comparing facility performance could lead to erroneous conclusions. Malpractice concerns are associated with interpretive performance.
Unfortunately, this is not surprising. When we are honest, we all recognize that not all doctors or labs or institutions or nurses are equal. In the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, as well as in ongoing follow-up for women who have had breast cancer, accurate mammogram readings are vital. For some time, there has been active discussion about the importance of "double reads"--meaning that two radiologists should read and sign off on mammograms. This is both for their and our protection.
What can you do to be sure that you are receiving your annual mammograms in a good place? First, especially since this is a once a year appointment, be willing to drive a little further if necessary. Ask your doctors for their recommendations, and, if you change sites, be sure to gather and take all your old mammograms with you. For older exams, this likely will mean gathering up the films and carrying them to your new mammogram facility. Newer digital mammograms are easier and can be transmitted electronically or carried on a disk.
Next, confirm that the mammograms are double read. And be sure that the office is accredited: If you click on Search for MQSA Certified Mammography Facilities in Your Area, you can access a listing by zip code of all mammography facilities in that zip code certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Certifying State as meeting baseline quality standards for equipment, personnel and practices under the Mammography Quality Standards Act of 1992 (MQSA) and subsequent Mammography Quality Standards Reauthorization Act (MQSRA) amendments.
If you want to read more of the article by Jackson et al, click here.