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Check Your Tech: Has Your Mammogram Shown a False Positive?

In today’s world of gizmos and gadgets, we tend to trust our technology to make our lives easier and more error-free. However, a new study on computer software that is widely used to locate cancerous regions in mammograms shows that the technology may be doing more harm than good. The study shows that the software has not only failed to make breast cancer detection more accurate, but that it has also increased the risk that a patient will be erroneously told that her mammogram shows cancer cells.

The study, which may be found online in the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute,” bases its conclusions on the analysis of about 1.6 million mammograms taken at radiology facilities in several states between 1998 and 2006. The same researchers who have published this study were also the authors of a similar one conducted in 2007, when they first became skeptical of the efficacy of this mammogram technology, known as computer-aided detection (CAD).

The problem comes from the fact that mammograms themselves are not always as trustworthy as we would rather them be. According to the National Cancer Institute, the average mammogram may overlook up to 20 percent of breast cancers. However, studies show that having multiple radiologists examine a mammogram may improve the accuracy of its result. This is where CAD has been most often deployed – as a second set of eyes to look at a mammogram. Thus, CAD is being used as if it is as good as a radiologist’s eye, and it simply may not be the case that it is.

Since its initial approval by the Food and Drug Administration, the use of CAD has become more prevalent. Today, it is used in about 75 percent of mammograms. And doctors have an incentive to use CAD – Medicare pays them a fee to do so.

While studies have not shown the use of CAD to cause failures to diagnose cancers, they have shown it to lead to more false-positives. That is, the use of CAD has led doctors to identify innocuous abnormalities on mammogram images as cancerous ones. However, some doctors have expressed the opinion that the problem may not lie with CAD itself, but rather with the doctors who are using it in their practices while still learning to use it properly.

In the meantime, it does not appear as if CAD will be going anywhere. Doctors fearing malpractice lawsuits often try to minimize the impact of human error in their practices, and technology is a good way to do this, so long as there is an accepted way of using it and they are conforming to those standards. This caveat, again, is the sticky question – can it be used properly? And is your doctor doing this?

Legal recourse is available where a doctor goes outside of his professional expertise in administering care, and people are harmed as a result. If you feel a doctor’s error has resulted in harm to you or a loved one, you may have a claim – feel free to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Levin & Perconti today.

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