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Optimising breast cancer screening reading: blinding the second reader to the first reader's decisions.

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Cooper, Jennifer A 
Jenkinson, David 
Stinton, Chris 
Wallis, Matthew G 
Hudson, Sue 


OBJECTIVES: In breast cancer screening, two readers separately examine each woman's mammograms for signs of cancer. We examined whether preventing the two readers from seeing each other's decisions (blinding) affects behaviour and outcomes. METHODS: This cohort study used data from the CO-OPS breast-screening trial (1,119,191 women from 43 screening centres in England) where all discrepant readings were arbitrated. Multilevel models were fitted using Markov chain Monte Carlo to measure whether reader 2 conformed to the decisions of reader 1 when they were not blinded, and the effect of blinding on overall rates of recall for further tests and cancer detection. Differences in positive predictive value (PPV) were assessed using Pearson's chi-squared test. RESULTS: When reader 1 recalls, the probability of reader 2 also recalling was higher when not blinded than when blinded, suggesting readers may be influenced by the other's decision. Overall, women were less likely to be recalled when reader 2 was blinded (OR 0.923; 95% credible interval 0.864, 0.986), with no clear pattern in cancer detection rate (OR 1.029; 95% credible interval 0.970, 1.089; Bayesian p value 0.832). PPV was 22.1% for blinded versus 20.6% for not blinded (p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that when not blinded, reader 2 is influenced by reader 1's decisions to recall (alliterative bias) which would result in bypassing arbitration and negate some of the benefits of double-reading. We found a relationship between blinding the second reader and slightly higher PPV of breast cancer screening, although this analysis may be confounded by other centre characteristics. KEY POINTS: • In Europe, it is recommended that breast screening mammograms are analysed by two readers but there is little evidence on the effect of 'blinding' the readers so they cannot see each other's decisions. • We found evidence that when the second reader is not blinded, they are more likely to agree with a recall decision from the first reader and less likely to make an independent judgement (alliterative error). This may reduce overall accuracy through bypassing arbitration. • This observational study suggests an association between blinding the second reader and higher positive predictive value of screening, but this may be confounded by centre characteristics.



Breast neoplasms, Early detection of cancer, Mammography, Markov chains, Mass screening, Bayes Theorem, Breast Neoplasms, Cohort Studies, Early Detection of Cancer, Female, Humans, Mammography, Mass Screening, Observer Variation

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Eur Radiol

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
National Institute for Health and Care Research (IS-BRC-1215-20014)