We’re half-way through the month of October and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We’ve been focusing on promoting the benefits of screening mammography for women over 40 because we know that finding cancer at early stages is far better because it’s easier to cure than cancers found at later stages.
There are two kinds of mammograms: digital and conventional. Both use X-ray radiation to produce an image of the breast, but conventional mammograms are read and stored on film, where digital mammograms are read and stored in a computer so the data can be enhanced, magnified, or manipulated for further evaluation. There are no other differences between the two.
According to the National Cancer Institute, women with dense breasts who are pre- or perimenopausal (women who had their last menstrual period within 12 months of their mammograms) or who are younger than age 50 may benefit from having a digital rather than a film mammogram because subtle differences between normal and abnormal tissue may be easier to see.
Digital is best
Studies have shown that digital mammography detects up to 28 percent more cancers than film mammography in women 50 years of age and younger, pre- and perimenopausal women, and in women with dense breast tissue. A 28 percent increase in accuracy means earlier detection, and most importantly, a better chance of a cure.
According to the National Cancer Institute, other advantages to digital mammography over film mammography include improved ease of image access, transmission, retrieval and storage, and lower average radiation dose without a compromise in diagnostic accuracy. In addition, digital mammograms are less likely than film mammograms to be lost. Digital mammograms require about three quarters the radiation dose of film mammography. However, the dose in film mammography is quite low and poses no significant danger to patients.
Screening vs. diagnostic mammograms
A screening mammogram is a general X-ray that is taken of the breasts to look for any abnormalities. A woman doesn’t have to have any signs or symptoms of a problem to have a screening mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is performed when a patient has focal symptoms or a lump, or when the radiologist calls her back for something seen on the screening mammogram. Simple!