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Medical News & Perspectives
July 23/30, 2003

Researchers Seek Mammography Alternatives

JAMA. 2003;290(4):450-451. doi:10.1001/jama.290.4.450

To increase breast cancer survival, the second leading cause of cancer death among North American women, a patient's best hope is early detection and aggressive treatment. The current detection tool of choice is film-screen mammography—but clinicians and patients agree that it is a choice that falls considerably short of ideal.

One of mammography's drawbacks is that it loses sensitivity when screening younger women or those with dense breasts. For a 1-year screening interval, according to US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the sensitivity of first mammography ranges from 71% to 96%, but is substantially lower for women in their 40s compared with older women—as low as about 50% in some trials. Another study found mammogram sensitivity was 98.4% in women 50 years or older with fatty breasts and 83.7% in women with dense breasts (JAMA. 1996;276:33-38).