Limitations of Screening Mammography

  • Up to 20% false-negative rates, where mammography fails to detect cancers. (2)
  • Up to 12% false-positive rates, where mammography detects a cancer when there is none. (2)
  • Inadequate detection of cancer in women with dense breast tissue.  Mammography detects approximately 90% of tumors in women over 50, but only 60% of tumors in women under the age of 50.(2)
  • Lack of specificity, where mammography cannot distinguish between benign and cancerous breast lesions.


(1) (W-BI-001 August 06) – Andrew P. Smith, Patricia Hall, Donna Marcello (Emerging Technologies in Breast Cancer Detection)

(2) 2006 National Cancer Institute


Ultrasound – use of high-frequency sound waves to generate an image.  Holds promise as a method of detection of cancers in women with breast tissue, which is often problematic with conventional screen-film mammography.

Digital mammography – uses traditional x-ray generators and tubes to produce an x-ray image just like conventional film mammography.  The difference is that the radiation strikes a digital image. The x-ray signal is converted into digital information that can be stored electronically, transmitted, displayed, analyzed, and manipulated in a number of ways. The system allow image processing and offer ease of image storage and retrieval.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging – image generated by signals from excitation of nuclear particles in a magnetic field.

The pathway from technical innovation to accepted clinical practice is long, arduous, and costly.  Those who evaluate the potential of new technologies consider many factors – clinical need, technical performance, economic issues, and patient and societal perspectives.

After the regulatory hurdles are run, and reimbursement rates have been argued out and defined, the adoption of new technologies will depend on whether patients and their healthcare providers find them acceptable.




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