Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Fortunately, deaths caused by breast cancer have declined over the past 20 years. Many experts believe this is, in part, a result of improved screening and treatment techniques. Mammograms are the preferred diagnostic test to find breast cancer in its early stages. They do this by using X-rays to scan the breasts for cancer.
For many years, the only option was mammograms that record images of the breast on film. Now, digital mammograms are available. Digital mammograms store and analyze the information using a computer.
What are the potential benefits of digital mammograms?
- Enhanced interpretation. Mammograms can be extremely difficult for radiologists to interpret. Digital mammograms, though, are stored electronically. That means they can be analyzed by computers as well as by radiologists.
- Image manipulation capabilities. Film mammogram images cannot be changed. Digital mammogram images can be manipulated digitally for better clarity and visibility. For instance, the contrast of the images can be changed where necessary to provide a clearer picture.
- Lower average radiation dosage. Digital mammograms may take more views of each breast than film mammograms. But they use approximately 25% less radiation than film mammograms. That’s because smaller areas of the breast are imaged in each view.
- Easier second opinions. Since digital mammograms are stored in computers, they can easily be sent electronically to other health care professionals for analysis.
- Easier to store. Film mammograms produce bulky sets of films that must be stored and revisited for comparison in future tests. Digital mammogram results are stored on computers for ease of access and retrieval.
Who should get a digital mammogram?
Women younger than 50, premenopausal or perimenopausal (those with a menopause duration of less than a year) women, and women with dense breasts might benefit from digital mammogram screenings. For other groups of women, research indicates that film and digital mammograms have similar detection results.
Digital mammograms cost much more than film mammograms. And the vast majority of mammogram facilities in the U.S. do not have digital capabilities. However, even if you are a woman that might benefit from digital mammograms, not having access to digital mammogram technology does not mean you should forego a regular film mammogram.
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women age 40 and above have an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer.