Digital Mammograms Improve How Doctors Find Breast Cancer

New research suggests that a newer digital version of mammography may catch life-threatening breast cancers earlier and more accurately.

Posted on | Comments ()

Doctors have been using screen film mammograms for years; however, a newer digital version of mammography may catch life-threatening breast cancers earlier and more accurately – without the feared risk of false-positive results from detecting insignificant breast changes. The breaking new study was released today in the journal Radiology.

In 2009, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) shocked the nation by changing their recommendations on traditional screen film mammograms. “To assess the balance of benefits and harms,” the organization started recommending regular biennial mammograms for women after the age of 50 instead of 40. In their new guidelines, the USPSTF cited the risks of regular screening, which include “psychological harms, unnecessary imaging tests, and false-positive diagnoses of breast cancer.” This new research on digital mammography may necessitate that these guidelines once again be reevaluated.

Traditional screen film mammography works by compressing a woman’s breast against two plates and taking an x-ray snapshot of the breast from above on a film placed below. This is like taking a picture with a 35mm camera.

Digital mammography, however, is like taking a snapshot with a digital camera. Instead of using an x-ray film, solid state detectors convert the x-rays into electrical signals that would enable the physician to see the breast in high-resolution on a computer screen. The quality is better than screen film mammography because the details stand out – especially for women who have dense breast tissue. Because the image is saved on a computer, it makes it easier to look for changes in the breast by comparing current images with past images.