Digital Mammography Brings Cancer Screening to Remote Reservations

A pilot program run by radiologists at the University of Michigan offers breast cancer screenings to women on rural Indian reservations.

A truck equipped with mammography equipment has been delivering care to Native American women in North Dakota and South Dakota, connecting patients with clinicians at the University of Michigan. The pilot program performed hundreds of screens over the summer, and the Indian Health Service will provide the service again in 2007.

Without the roving mammogram truck, women would need to travel up 100 miles to get a mammogram done. Only about 10 percent of Native American women over age 40 get a yearly mammogram.

Under the mobile mammography program, administered by clinicians at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, screening images are transmitted in real time via a satellite connection to a GE SenoAdvantage 2.0 workstation at the breast imaging division at the University of Michigan.

Radiologists said that the quality of remote images was similar to that of locally performed digital images. The time to transmit the images was about five minutes. A separate study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute found that digital mammography is just as accurate as film and that women under 50 or with dense breasts are more accurately screened with digital versions.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about another study that suggests that body scans performed by experts using remote control software can produce higher-quality images than those obtained by on-site operators.

In over 80 percent of the screenings, images were analyzed and reports returned to patients in less than an hour after image transmission. And timing improved as the study progressed. In the fourth week of the study, 94 percent of reports were generated in under an hour. When technology worked properly and weather conditions were ideal, reports were returned in as little as 30 minutes.

The rapid turnaround meant that most patients who should receive follow-up screens were able to get them. The unit performed 515 mammography examinations on 506 patients in rural areas. Fifty-eight patients were called back for additional screens, and 42 of them received them within two days.

"The results demonstrate that digital mammograms can be transmitted rapidly by satellite without loss of image quality and can be interpreted remotely," said Marilyn A. Roubidoux, professor of radiology at University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor, in a statement. "Furthermore, patients reported high satisfaction with the professional and sensitive care they received."

Roubidoux presented the results of the pilot program at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. An abstract is available here.

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