Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women today. Fortunately, breast cancer death rates have been going down. This is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. One of the most recent advances in x-ray mammography is digital (computerized) mammography.
Digital mammography can play a critical part in the early detection of breast cancer. While the procedure and appearance of the machine and even the images produced are very similar to a standard film mammogram - the advantage really comes from the ability to manipulate the image electronically as the system is equipped with a digital receptor which captures and converts the x-ray energy into a digital image.
There is also a significant health advantage to going digital; a recent study showed that women receive 22 percent less radiation dose with digital mammograms when compared to conventional film scans (the reduction in radiation exposure may be greater for women with larger and denser breasts). In addition, a study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute showed that digital mammograms detect up to 28 percent more cancers than traditional mammography. Digital mammography was also proven to be significantly better in screening women under the age of 50; of any age with extremely dense or very dense breast; and pre-or perimenopausal women of any age.
When digital mammography is used in conjunction with computer-aided detection (CAD) technology, the results are even more effective. The CAD technology basically works like a second pair of eyes. If the computer software detects any breast abnormalities or "regions of interest" on the film, it marks them. The radiologist will then review the mammogram to determine whether the marked areas require further examination.
Digital mammograms offer several benefits for women including increased cancer detection and lower radiation dose. Mammograms, in conjunction with monthly self-breast exams and an annual clinical breast exam by a trained provider, are the best screening tools available today for detecting breast cancer.