false positives

  1. 3D mammogram results better?

    New mammogram in the news

    In this day and age, we should be working to expose people to less radiation -- not more.

    That's why I'm really concerned by a gimmicky new form of mammogram being pushed by the mainstream that requires double the radiation of the traditional mammogram because they'll only allow women to get this new form in ADDITION to the original.

    It's called a 3-D mammogram, and the name is meant to conjure up images of high technology -- that, and paying an extra $3 to see a movie while wearing dark glasses looking at your mammogram results.

    But whatever image it conjures up in your mind, it creates a much sharper image of your mammogram results on the computer screen -- one doctors claim can help them better detect cancer.

    Turns out they're not the best judges of their own skills, because it bumps the accuracy of mammogram results up by only a very small amount -- 7 percent, mostly in the form of fewer false positives.

    Don't get me wrong: A false positive can give a woman the scare of a lifetime, not to mention weeks of unnecessary stress. I'm all for reducing the number of false positives in mammogram results -- but not at the expense of giving everyone double the amount of cancer-causing radiation.

    After all, what's a small decrease in false positives worth when you're talking about a guaranteed increase in the number of cancers caused by the screenings?

    Already, regular mammograms cause cancer in about 1 out of every 1,000 women screened. That may not sound very big, but it adds up fast when you screen 48 million women every year in the United States alone.

    Now, think of how much faster those numbers will rise if you double the radiation used in each mammogram.

    That's unacceptable to me -- especially when there are safe and proven alternatives that use no radiation at all, including MRIs and ultrasound. You won't hear about these techniques from the pink ribbon campaigns, so speak to a holistic doctor instead.

  2. Low marks for high-tech mammograms

    A new spin on mammograms has managed to take a badly flawed technology... and make it even worse.

    Imagine that!

    The technology is called computer-aided detection, or CAD, and it's supposed to help radiologists find potential cancers in breast tissue -- which would be great if it actually worked.

    In reality, all it seems good for is giving women a good scare. That's because this "advanced technology" is great at detecting "abnormalities" -- but not so great at detecting actual cancer.

    If you want proof, take a look at the data from a study published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers looked at data on 1.6 million mammograms given over an eight-year span. They found that even though CAD revealed more "abnormalities," the rate of invasive breast cancers that were detected remained the same -- whether CAD was used or not.

    Clinics with CAD also had a lower rate of accurate diagnoses of "abnormal" mammograms than clinics without the technology.

    And, for the cherry on top, clinics with CAD had a higher rate of false positives -- which meant that more women had to undergo additional tests, when none of it would have been necessary to begin with.

    The same team carried out a similar study in 2007 with similar results -- so if anything, CAD is consistent.

    Consistently bad.

    Despite that lousy track record, CAD is now widely used. If you've had a mammogram recently, chances are your own radiologist used CAD.

    The obvious answer is for radiologists to give CAD the boot. But even if they did, there's a bigger picture to keep in mind.

    CAD or no CAD, mammograms are dangerously overused and wildly inaccurate -- and they've led to the mass overtreatment of a disease that won't hurt most women.

    The radiation used in mammograms alone can cause the very cancers they're supposed to detect. Even mainstream mammogram backers will be forced to admit it if you ask them directly (expect some hems and haws first, though).

    Instead of tweaking this failed screening, it's time to scrap it altogether and find one that really works instead.

  3. New guidelines push more mammograms

    Just when I thought we were getting somewhere with cancer screenings, yet another organization has cooked up its own set of guidelines. And it's a huge step backwards.

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