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Study: Computer Detection No Aid in Finding Breast Tumors

Mammogram (


A group of university, research institute, and National Cancer Institute researchers have concluded that computer-aided detection (CAD) technology, often used with mammograms, is ineffective in finding breast tumors. The research indicates that CAD may also increase a woman’s risk of being called back needlessly for additional testing following mammography.

The study, published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (paid subscription required), reviewed data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium. The study examined 1.6 million screening mammograms performed on more than 680,000 women at 90 mammography facilities in seven U.S. states from 1998 to 2006.

Of the 90 facilities, 25 adopted CAD and used it for an average of 27.5 months during the study period. The researchers collected information on women who had mammograms with and without CAD, including whether they were diagnosed with breast cancer within a year of the screening.

The results show the false-positive rate typically increased from 8.1 percent before the use of CAD to 8.6 percent after CAD was installed at the facilities in the study.  The findings also indicate that the detection rate of breast cancer and the stage and size of breast cancer tumors were similar whether the facility used CAD or not.

Joshua Fenton, a professor in the University of California at Davis Department of Family and Community Medicine, who led the study says “CAD increases the chances of being unnecessarily called back for further testing because of false-positive results without clear benefits to women.”

Medicare covers the cost of CAD, which adds about $12.00 to the cost of a screening mammogram. For a film mammogram with CAD enhancement, the cost to Medicare is $81.51. For direct digital images, Medicare reimburses a CAD-enhanced mammogram at $129.84.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, with additional support provided by the American Cancer Society.

Read more: Individualized Medical Cost-Effectiveness Metric Proposed

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