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Quebec mammogram machines face new review after Ontario findings

A woman undergoes a mammogram.

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Three-quarters of Quebec's 144 mammography machines will be reviewed for their effectiveness at detecting breast cancer after research in Ontario found similar machines miss on average one in five cancers when compared with other devices.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Réjean Hébert said on Thursday that the National Public Health Institute of Quebec would study the equipment, known as CR machines for their use of computed radiography technology. Stéphanie Ménard, the spokeswoman, did not say when the review would be completed.

The president of Quebec's radiologists' association said on Wednesday that the province would examine the detection rates of the machines, but the province could not immediately confirm such an initiative.

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In an e-mail response to questions on Thursday about what actions the province is taking, Ms. Ménard wrote: "I confirm that the Department of Health and Human Services has mandated the National Public Health Institute of Quebec to conduct a study on mammography CR."

A study by Cancer Care Ontario published this week found that CR machines are 20-per-cent less effective in detecting breast cancers than two other mainstream mammography devices – one that uses screen-film and X-rays and another that employs digital technology called direct radiography.

The findings prompted Ontario to suspend use of the machines in the province immediately and allocate $25-million to replace them. The devices comprised about a quarter, or 76, of Ontario's mammography machines.

The developments in Ontario have become a sensitive subject for Quebec, where CR machines are the primary means of breast cancer screening. In response to media inquiries, Mr. Hébert said in a lengthy statement on Tuesday that, while the study should be taken "very seriously," the province would keep using the machines. He discouraged women from getting retested.

Seeking to reassure concerned women, the Association des radiologistes du Québec has noted that, despite the preponderance of the machines in Quebec, the breast cancer detection rate there has hovered above international standards for more than a decade and is slightly higher than that of Ontario.

CR machines were introduced in Quebec in 2006.

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