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Digital mammography better for some women


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WASHINGTON, Sep 16, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Digital mammography detects breast cancers in certain women that would be missed by standard film mammography, researchers have concluded based on the results of one of the largest studies of its kind.

For the general population of women, both mammography techniques work equally as well in picking up cancers, but the digital method detects 28 percent more tumors in women with dense breasts, those who are pre-menopausal or peri-menopausal, and those under age 50.

"We believe that the significant improvement in accuracy in specific subgroups of women justifies the use of digital mammography in these groups," a research team headed by Dr. Etta Pisano, director of the Biomedical Research Imaging Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote in an article released Friday in a special online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The groups of women who may benefit from digital technology are those in which standard mammography has been less effective," Pisano said in a statement.

She noted "the cancers detected only by digital mammography are the types of cancers that must be detected early to save more lives through screening."

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death due to cancer in women. The National Cancer Institute, which sponsored the study, estimates more than 211,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease this year and more than 40,000 will die.

Digital mammography captures an electronic image of the breast that physicians can enhance and manipulate using computer software to facilitate their analysis. The film method, as the name implies, captures the image to film, and it was previously known that this technique had difficulty in detecting cancers in women with dense breasts -- who are known to have a higher risk for developing the disease.

The study began nearly four years ago, in 2001. Approximately 49,500 women in the United States and Canada were enrolled who did not have breast cancer at the start of the trial. The women underwent both digital and film mammographies, which were analyzed by two radiologists.

"This digital mammography study demonstrates how new technologies are expanding our ability to detect breast cancer earlier in more women," NCI Director Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach said in a statement.

Dr. Bruce Hillman, chair of the American College of Radiology Imaging Network, which conducted the study, said the findings would be important in diagnosing and treating women with breast cancer.

"This landmark trial, along with others currently being conducted by ACRIN, will influence the appropriate care for women everywhere," Hillman said in a statement.

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E-mail: sciencemail@upi.com

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

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