October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of early detection. So it seems a good time to look at the latest technology advances in mammography, even as controversy continues to swirl over recommendations for mammogram frequency.
On the plus side, a team from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy studied the effect of false-positive mammograms and found that although women’s short-term anxiety spiked after a false positive, that brief episode had no long-term effect on health.
Still, better screening methods presumably lead to more accurate diagnoses and fewer errors, so it’s important to continue informing patients about new technologies such as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT). At the moment, what radiologists need most is a way to quickly and easily conduct a variety of scans so that screening can be tailored based on the patient’s age, family history, and insurance status. Not all insurers will pay for DBT, so that must remain a consideration.
Today’s most sophisticated mammography systems help physicians discover the correct diagnosis accurately and efficiently in this multi-modality environment. They allow radiologists to access 2-D full field digital mammography (FFDM) and DBT images from a single workstation, as well as provide support for synthesized 2-D images created from DBT data. Consequently, they can leverage frequently used shortcuts, mouse controls, workflows and display protocol configuration tools when reading for the same patient.
Ideally, mammography images are natively viewed so that radiologists can use the FFDM tools they’re familiar with such as sector zoom and historical matching. Radiologists should also be able to use tools such as dual magnifying glasses to compare historical images with current ones, including DBT, with uniform sizing. Similarly, they should be able to display prior Reporting Assessment categories and breast density without having to open individual reports.
One final thing physicians may consider as they focus on breast cancer this month is a Canadian study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Symposium in September. It found that physician-signed letters can improve screening rates. In a six-month period, 22% of women receiving only a reminder postcard were screened, compared to 33% in a group of women who received a postcard and a physician-signed letter.