Local News

Computer-Aided Detection Helping Diagnose Breast Cancer

Posted June 12, 2002 3:12 a.m. EDT

— New technology is helping better detect breast cancer. Computer-aided detection is new, but more and more radiology centers are now using it.

Dr. Julie Taber spends hours examining mammograms with a magnifying glass. That is because the tiniest dot could be nothing or it could be breast cancer.

Now, Taber and other radiologists at Raleigh Imaging Services have a new tool to help make sure they do not miss anything.

The process, called computer-aided detection, starts with a mammogram that is digitized and then fed into a computer.

While the doctor examines the film, the computer scans it, too.

"It highlights areas that are different than other areas in the breast," Taber said.

She calls the process a second pair of eyes.

"Typically, the radiologist looks at the films beforehand and then looks at what the computer program has detected as a sign that they should look at the areas again," Taber said.

However, that does not always mean it is cancer.

In one case, the computer highlights a small area in the breast. When Taber took another look, she saw that it is a calcification, a tiny calcium deposit. A check of past mammograms showed it has been there for years and is not growing.

"They were benign. They were there before, but it's nothing to worry about," she said.

Early studies show computer-aided detection helps catch more cancers.

"There's an increased sensitivity of about 20 percent picking up more cancers with the computer-aided detection. So women should feel better knowing their images have been looked at by the computer," Taber said.

The process is covered by many insurance companies.

One concern had been that the computer sensitivity would mean more women would be called back for more tests; however, the callback rate has only increased by about 1 percent.