Radiologists ask provinces to test mammography units

Unaccredited facilities risk unreliable test results, national radiology group says. Nfld. official defends quality of units, staff.

Most of the mammography units in Newfoundland and Labrador are not accredited, and the national radiologists association is advising women to avoid getting a test done if a centre lacks its stamp of approval.

Accreditation is not mandatory in Newfoundland and Labrador, and only four mammography units in the province are accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists. Eleven are not.

In contrast, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Quebec mandate breast cancer screening on accredited machines, and British Columbia is expected to add the requirement later this year.

The radiologists association is calling on all provinces to make accreditation of mammography units mandatory.

If women go to a unit that has not received accreditation, they risk getting unreliable test results for breast cancer, said Normand Laberge, CEO of the radiologists association. 

"A woman might be told they have cancer while there is nothing; it is simply a faulty image," said Laberge. "Or they might be told that they are perfectly healthy, while a cancer is slowly growing."

The Canadian Association of Radiologists accredits mammography units to make sure the machines are in peak condition and are run properly by staff.

Dr. Ed Mercer, chief of radiology for the Newfoundland's Western health region, said the mammography unit there has been upgraded since it failed accreditation two years ago.

Mercer said the imaging done on that machine is comparable to elsewhere in Canada, and he is worried that focusing on accreditation will frighten women away from breast screening that could save their lives.

"Accreditation is the icing on the cake, if you will," said Mercer.

"I can't imagine any radiologist allowing a machine to be used that he or she feels is not adequate or doing in the best interest of the patient."

In provinces where accreditation is voluntary, people can check if a testing facility is accredited by searching the association's web page.