Your Digital Mammography Appointment: What to Expect >
Digital Mammography: Is It Right For You?
In its early stages, breast cancer has few if any symptoms. That’s why it’s important for older women to have annual screening mammograms. Studies have shown that an annual mammogram remains the most effective way of detecting breast cancer in its early, more treatable stages.
There is a current debate in the United States over the best time to begin screening mammograms for breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services (USPTF) has recommended that the biennial screening mammography for women should be done between the ages of 50 to 74 years. The recommendation among other health experts has not changed, including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons. They continue to recommend that women should begin having annual mammograms at age 40 or earlier if they are at higher risk. The decision when to start regular, biennial screening mammography should be a result of your individual discussion with your physician.
For an annual screening mammogram, a specially trained physician will look for small changes in the breast tissue. A first-time mammogram becomes a woman’s baseline, which will then be compared to mammograms in subsequent years.
Mammography provides doctors with a method to view the internal structure of the breast using low-dose x-rays. On the average, mammography can detect about 80 to 90 percent of cancers in women who don’t have any symptoms. The accuracy increases for over the age of 50.
Digital and Film Mammography
There are two types of mammography currently available: standard film imaging and a newer digital method. Both use low-dose x-rays to produce images of the breast. With standard film methods, the x-ray images are produced on a special type of film.
Digital imaging works similar to a digital camera. Instead of the images being stored on film and having to be developed, solid-state detectors convert the x-rays into electrical signals that are sent to a computer. Doctors can take a digital mammogram and use the computer to enhance the image, zoom in on an area in question or even send the image to a remote location for analysis.
Benefits of Digital Mammography
Patients may notice shorter waiting times because the technologist doesn’t have to develop the film but instead can view the images on a computer screen. Since the images are checked and deemed acceptable during the initial visit, fewer women have to return for a repeat exam because of questionable areas on the original film mammogram. Digital mammography also exposes patients to less radiation.
In 2005, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 49,000 women with no symptoms of breast cancer and used both digital and film screening mammograms. The researchers said that digital mammograms worked better than film mammograms in detecting breast cancer for women who were under the age of 40, those with dense breast tissue and those who have either not gone through menopause or have been in menopause for less than one year.
Computer-Aided Detection and Diagnosis
Another benefit of digital mammography is that the use of a computer helps doctors find abnormal areas on the mammogram. A special program looks at the digital image and displays it on a screen with markers that indicate where the computer wants the doctor to check more closely.
For women, the most important thing they can do is make appointments for their regular screening mammogram. To schedule your mammogram, please call us at 561-637-5315.