WAUSAU - A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests doctors struggle to accurately interpret breast biopsies.
The study says pathologists misdiagnosed normal breast tissue 13 percent of the time.
However, some doctors think the study results might not be so alarming. Dr. Edgar Betancourt, from Associates in Pathology in Wausau, says recent technological advances have made the process of interpreting a biopsy more subtle and complicated.
"With improvements in X-ray technology we find a lot of stuff that we didn't find before," Betancourt said. "So if you went back, say, 35 years ago, well, you just found the obvious malignant ones or you didn't find anything."
"The obviously benign ones and the obviously malignant ones, we agree on almost 100 percent of the time," said Betancourt. "It's the ones that are not quite malignant or [not] quite benign, and that category, as technology has improved for screening, has increased."
The main controversy with the study concerns cases that fall into that gray area--samples that are neither clearly benign nor clearly malignant. Those samples account for about 13 percent of all the tissue samples doctors look at.
"So now that they have mammograms--for example, digital mammography, or MRI, or other ways of studying the breast--we have found a whole bunch of stuff that we're not quite sure if this is going to be malignant at some time or not."
Doctors interpret these gray area samples on a case-by-case basis. Experts want people to understand that that uncertainty is a fundamental part of the field of pathology and any other science--which is why more than one doctor looks at every tissue sample.
"In our practice specifically, we always share all breast biopsy cases with another pathologist," said Betancourt. "So as part of the general workload, you always get a second opinion. If we don't agree within our same group, we will actually refer that to a third pathologist that can take another look at it."