NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Many Doctors Fail to Spot Cancer on Mammograms

July 12, 2002

Over the last year, a high-profile battle has raged in the scientific community over the efficacy of mammograms, although health insurance plans are already under federal and state mandates to cover them, and some politicians want to make free mammograms for poor women a legal entitlement.

Lost in the debate is research showing many physicians are to blame for failing to spot cancer. Some clinics miss as much as 40 percent of cancers.

  • New York health authorities uncovered a radiologist who "missed" 3.5 cases of cancer for every one he found.
  • A 1996 study tested physicians and found that 25 percent missed one-in-three cancers.

The best doctors under ideal conditions will miss as much as 10 percent of potentially visible cancers. But average doctors working under normal condition average only 75 percent accuracy.

Unfortunately, the doctors themselves rarely find out about their misread mammograms.

Source: Michael Moss, "Spotting Breast Cancer: Doctors are Weak Link," New York Times, June 27, 2002.


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