What is a digital mammogram?
A regular mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast. Doctors use it to look for any changes in the breast tissue such as a lump. Its main purpose is to look for early signs of breast cancer. As mentioned, the results of a mammogram are available on x-rays.
A digital mammogram or digital mammography also uses X-rays to take images of the breast, but instead of producing the images on film, it stores them on a computer. This helps the doctor to view the results in a magnified fashion.
In the United States, digital mammography has replaced conventional film mammography as the primary breast screening method.
Advantages of Digital Mammograms
Digital mammograms are especially superior to regular film mammograms and more beneficial in the following circumstances.
- Women with dense breasts
- Women under the age of 50 years
- Premenopausal women and
- Women who are one year into post-menopause
Benefits of Digital Mammogram
- Long-distance second opinions or consultations can be taken as the computer images can be shared.
- Images on the computer can be magnified and contrast altered for clearer viewing. There is greater contrast resolution over a larger dynamic range.
- The real benefit of digital mammography is higher contrast resolution and the ability to process the image by enlarging it or changing its contrast and brightness, which helps radiologists more easily detect fine abnormalities, particularly in dense breast tissue.
- Minute differences in the normal breast tissue are more easily detected.
- As digital mammograms focus on a localized area, radiation exposure is reduced by 25% in spite of more views being taken.
- Results are easy to store on a computer and do not require storage spaces as in film mammograms.
- Lesser follow-up tests and imaging thereby reducing exposure to radiation
- Research done indicates that digital mammograms did a better job with the detection of early breast cancer.
Though the procedure is the same, digital mammogram screening for breast cancer does cost more than film mammograms and this facility is not available everywhere.
The method of getting mammogram images is the same for both image and digital mammograms. A technician places your breast between two plates, one above and one below. He flattens and compresses the beast between the two plates.
He then takes images of your breast from top to bottom and side to side. It can cause a little discomfort and the entire process takes about 20 minutes.
In conventional mammograms, results are stored as x-rays. With the digital type, the X-rays are available as electronic signals that can be stored in a computer like a digital camera, which takes pictures and stores them.
3-D Mammography (Tomosynthesis)
3-D mammography, also referred to as Tomosynthesis, is the latest screening and diagnostic procedure used for the early detection of breast cancer.
While the standard mammography produces a flat image on x-ray, tomosynthesis provides a three-dimensional picture of the breast. This gives results with greater accuracy for earlier breast cancer detection.
The 3D mammogram machine creates 3D images and standard 2D mammogram images. This is useful because both types of images provide more clarity in seeing certain breast tissue abnormalities.
- Advantages of tomosynthesis include:
- The need for follow-up imaging is reduced
- Together, they detect more cancers than a standard mammogram alone
- Together they improve breast cancer detection in dense breasts
- With 3D mammograms, chances of getting false positive reports are much reduced
- They are more effective in women age 65 and older..