Digital mammography is a new imaging method that takes an electronic image of the breast and stores it on a computer rather than on film. The images can be viewed on a high-resolution monitor, which enables radiologists to see clearly the breast tissue and any abnormalities. The radiologist can also magnify and manipulate the image without having the patient come in for more pictures.
With digital mammography, a computer-aided detection system scans the digital image and searches for abnormal areas in the breast, such as calcifications (calcium deposits that can signify early stage breast cancer). The system highlights these abnormalities, performing a “first look” for the radiologist.
The biggest benefit of digital mammography is outstanding image quality. Digital images are clearer and easier to read than film images and can be examined very carefully. In 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine published results from a study indicating that digital mammography found 28 percent more cancers in women under 50 than film mammography. The trial included nearly 50,000 women at 33 clinical sites. Brown University’s Center for Statistical Sciences developed the study’s statistical design and analyzed the results.
Because women under 50, as well as those who are premenopausal and perimenopausal, have dense breast tissue, digital mammography is more accurate in identifying changes that suggest early stages of cancer, which increases the likelihood of an early diagnosis.
The process of digital mammography is much faster than traditional methods, minimizing the compression time and its discomfort to the patient. With digital mammography, the technologist can see the breast image right away and assess for clarity.