More than 6,000 mammograms reviewed after radiology group misses dozens of cancers

A radiology group in Arizona is under fire after allegedly missing dozens of breast malignancies, some of which were "screaming cancer,” according to a new NBC News investigation. 

“I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” breast surgeon, Dr. Beth Dupree, who consulted with numerous patients impacted by the missed diagnoses, told the network. “These were misses that were not subtle.” 

Dupree reportedly consulted with several patients with questionable mammography interpretations that all occurred within a hospital or clinic owned by Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH), a nonprofit healthcare system that offers healthcare services through two hospitals and numerous primary care and specialty clinics. During the time of the missed diagnoses, NAH had an exclusive contract with Northern Arizona Radiologists (NAR).  

Eventually, Dupree urged NAH to hire dedicated breast radiologists. One of these was Mike Ulissey, MD, a fellowship-trained breast radiologist. Upon request from NAH, Ulissey and two other breast radiologists were tasked with reviewing 6,344 mammograms that were completed between 2016 and 2018 and had initially been interpreted by a general radiologist.  

After reviewing more than 13,000 images, Ulissey and colleagues identified cancer in an additional 25 women, all of whom required either surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a mastectomy. 

In an interview with NBC News, Ulissey said he felt the number of women with missed cancers was likely higher than that uncovered by the review. 

“We thought there was a significant chance that additional patients were in harm's way and that we needed to expand our investigation,” Ulissey said. 

But that investigation reportedly didn’t happen. 

In a statement to NBC News, NAH clarified that NAR is a separate entity, and that as soon as concerns were raised, NAH “quickly acted to address the concerns.” Since the review’s completion, NAH maintains that only specialized breast radiologists interpret mammography exams. 

NAR also commented on the matter, stating that the results of the review were “well within national standards,” including those “under the Mammography Quality Standards Act.” 

The investigation centered on one radiologist in particular. That radiologist was not named in the NBC News report, but he is no longer with NAR.  

To view the special report, click here

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