New York Times takes mammographers to task

Radiologists are the "weakest link" and a dangerous "loophole" in the fight against breast cancer, according to a front-page article appearing in today's New York Times. The article levels a number of grievances at the imaging community, including lack of skills necessary to read mammograms; not actually meeting U.S. breast screening standards; and a dearth of self-policing.

"The federal mammography standards have eliminated many of the most egregious abuses and have made the breast x-rays much easier to read," the article stated. "But an examination by The New York Times has found that they have largely failed to remedy what many experts say is the biggest problem of all: the skill of the doctors who interpret those x-ray films. While studies indicate that doctors need to read at least 2,500 films each year to stay sharp, the government mandates a mere 480, a number many experts say is so low to be virtually meaningless," (NYT, Health, June 27, 2002).

Other issues raised in the article:

  • Radiologists have repeatedly thwarted government efforts to monitor their mistakes with a formal tracking program.
  • Federal regulators are "uneven and indulgent" when it comes to enforcing the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA). As a result, facilities that fail inspections do so without fear of penalty.
  • The American College of Radiology is "too accommodating," allowing screening clinics every opportunity to meet the standards.
  • Radiologists are missing more than the 10% error rate documented by several studies. In some cases, doctors have been shown to miss more than one in four cancers.

A representative of the American College of Radiology said the organization is in the process of planning a response.

The 6,342-word Times article is the first half of a two-part series set to conclude tomorrow.

By staff writers
June 27, 2002

Related Reading

More cancer screening linked to earlier detection, May 9, 2002

U.S. prepared to meet mammography demand, April 26, 2002

Residents shy away from breast imaging, survey shows, April 15, 2002

Copyright © 2002

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