Digital mammography is offered by UW Health radiology as part of UW Health's full spectrum of Breast Care Services
. Digital mammograms offer the latest in high-tech imaging to detect breast cancer.
What is a digital mammogram?
From the patient's perspective, the procedure for digital mammography remains the same as conventional film mammography. Digital mammography involves less radiation than film mammography, but both methods use X-rays to produce an image of your breast.
The positioning and compression of the breast are identical with digital and film mammography - the difference is that digital mammography takes the picture of the breast using a computer instead of a film.
This difference is similar to taking photographs with your personal digital camera compared to taking pictures with a traditional film camera. Because the image is "digital" (on a computer), the mammogram doesn't have to go through a film processor. The image comes up within seconds on a computer and the technologist can instantly confirm film quality. This means less waiting time for you while the films are being developed.
Conventional film mammography has been used for more than 35 years to produce high-quality mammogram images, but a limitation of film mammography is the film itself, which cannot be significantly altered once the image has been taken. If the film is underexposed, for example, the contrast necessary to evaluate the image is lost and cannot be regained.
With digital mammography, the image of your breast is taken electronically and stored directly on a computer. This allows your doctors to enhance or magnify the mammogram, which may be particularly useful when evaluating mammograms for women with dense breasts. The sensitivity of film mammography is somewhat limited in women with dense breasts, a population at higher risk for breast cancer.
Will digital mammography detect more cancers?
The most recent large-scale study has proven that digital mammography is equivalent to conventional "film screen" mammography. The images are somewhat easier to view and can be adjusted to optimize imaging of different areas which on a standard film may be too dark or bright. New technologies are being currently developed to enhance digital mammography capabilities. At UW Health, we use a Computer Aided Detection (CAD) system to help detect abnormal areas on your mammogram.
Who is a good candidate for a digital mammogram?
In the national study of digital vs. film mammography, both methods had similar screening accuracy for the entire population of women studied. However, digital mammography was shown to be significantly better in screening women who fit any of the following categories:
- Under age 50 (no matter what level of breast tissue density they had)
- Women of any age with very dense breasts
- Pre- or perimenopausal women of any age (defined as women who had their last menstrual period within 12 months of their mammograms)
In the study, there was no apparent benefit of digital over regular film mammography for menstruating women over 50 who do not have dense breast tissue.
Digital mammography is offered at the Breast Center at 600 Highland Avenue, as well as at UW Health's East Clinic and West Clinic. Talk to your doctor to determine whether digital mammography or traditional film mammography is the best choice for you.