Who is interpreting your mammogram?

When this question is asked to some patients, the following responses are sometimes given: (1) the technologist taking the pictures said everything looked fine;  (2) my doctor read the x-rays and said everything was fine. Anytime someone goes for an imaging exam (e.g. x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, ultrasound, mammogram, etc.), the exam is read or interpreted by a radiologist, or physician specially trained in the interpretation of imaging examinations. Often times, the patient never meets this doctor because he or she is in the “background” interpreting your exam long after you have left the radiology department. And, sometimes, because a patient gets her results from her primary doctor, she sometimes thinks that doctor was the one who interpreted the exam. The same is true for any type of breast imaging study (mammogram, breast MRI, breast ultrasound) that a patient undergoes…it is interpreted by a radiologist. Within the field of Radiology, there is further training that a radiologist can obtain, called fellowship. These fellowships allow the radiologist to become very specialized in one component of the body. In a 2009 study released in the journal Radiology, it was found that when mammograms are read by a specialized breast radiologist (a radiologist who has undergone formal fellowship training in breast radiology), there is higher detection of breast cancer than when mammograms are read by a general (non-fellowship trained) radiologist. Therefore, it is of UPMOST importance that you know who is reading/interpreting your mammogram!  It can mean the difference between early, accurate detection of breast cancer and a breast cancer that goes undiagnosed. It is your right to know the credentials of the person reading/interpreting your mammogram. Make sure it is a radiologist with formal fellowship training in breast radiology from an accredited institution. Some centers will advertise that they have a dedicated breast radiologist (or breast imager) on site, but many times this is a general radiologist who has had experience interpeting mammograms for some time, but has never had formal fellowship training in breast radiology. A current list of such institutions can be found on the Society of Breast Imaging website.

Dr. Thomas Bakondy, MD

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