(Host) Whenever a Vermont woman goes in for a mammogram, she’s asked to voluntarily provide information about her medical history. For the past decade the information and exam results have been used in the Vermont Mammography Registry – the nation’s only statewide breast cancer screening registry.
As it marks its first decade, VPR’s Steve Zind looks at how the registry has been used.
(Zind) When the Vermont Mammography Registry was created in 1993, there was concern that Vermont breast cancer rates were above the U.S. average – a belief based on data extrapolated from national figures. One of the first things the registry helped to do was dispel that notion. It showed that Vermont’s breast cancer rates are not higher than the rest of the nation.
Doctors and researchers say the registry’s real value has been as a tool to improve the detection and understanding of breast cancer. One way the registry is used is to provide feedback to radiologists who read mammograms, allowing them to compare the accuracy of their work with other radiologists in an effort to reduce the number false positives and false negatives. That’s a concern for radiologists in rural areas, who don’t read as many test results as their urban counterparts.
Doctor Donald Weaver is with the Vermont Breast Cancer Surveillance System at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.
(Weaver) “It’s undoubtedly been a good thing. I believe that it has improved the quality of mammography in Vermont.”
(Zind) Weaver says the Vermont registry has also contributed to a better understanding of breast cancer screening on a national level. The Vermont Mammography Registry is one of six registries in the country, but the only one that represents a broad cross-section of women and screening sites.
(Weaver) “Most of the studies that have been done on mammography would be done in large institutions and you’d get a bias based upon how that particular institution practiced. The Vermont Mammography Registry is a population-based registry, so we have much better data on how mammography is practiced in the real world.”
(Zind) The Vermont Mammography Registry has gathered information on a half million mammograms and 150,000 women. That information, along with data collected from other registries has been used to help improve screening and ultimately reduce deaths from breast cancer. Doctor Berta Geller is a University of Vermont researcher who helped start the mammography registry.
(Geller) “We have an incredible data set, I think, because we’re a small and highly cooperative state. So, what we have is a data base that now can be used and has been used for a variety of research projects.”
(Zind) Geller says the research benefits of the registry may not come in dramatic breakthroughs – but over the years, incremental gains made by research using the Vermont Mammography Registry have helped improve breast cancer screening for women worldwide.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.