Digital breast cancer detection technology does not improve outcomes

A new study in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that breast cancer screening using digital mammography technology is not associated with improved health outcomes when compared to older film detection technology.

In 2000, the US FDA approved digital mammography technology. Studies suggested the new technology was potentially more specific in its findings. Proponents of the technology believed it would reduce the number of callbacks for positive findings, find more disease, and lead to fewer cancers diagnosed in between screenings (interval cancers).

Researchers conducted a systematic review and searched seven databases for publications that compared film to digital mammography within the same population of asymptomatic women. Researchers looked for evidence of improved health outcomes in the newer digital technology, by analyzing detection rates, recall rates (patients contacted for further testing), and cancers diagnosed in between scheduled screenings.

The meta-analysis included 24 studies with 16,583,743 screening examinations (10,968,843 film and 5,614,900 digital). The difference in cancer detection rate showed an increase of 0.51 per 1,000 screens, and a recall rate increase of 6.95 per 1,000 screens after the transition from film to digital mammography.

The researchers found that the small increase in cancer detection following the switch to new digital mammography did not translate into a reduction in cancers diagnosed in between scheduled screenings

The researchers conclude that while digital mammography is beneficial for medical facilities due to easier storage and handling of images, these results suggest the transition from film to digital mammography has not resulted in health benefits for screened women.

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