Digital Mammography Favored for Less Radiation, Better Accuracy

July 30, 2012

Should women opt to go to a facility that offers digital rather than analog mammography? There are reasons why that may be a good idea:

  • Digital mammography uses an average of 22 percent less radiation.

  • An American College of Radiology Imaging Network study indicated that it detected up to 28 percent more cancers than analog mammograms in women less than 50 years old.

Because digital mammography machines are faster, patients spend less time in uncomfortable positions, said Charlotte Rankin, executive director of Cardiology & Imaging, Mercy Hospital, Rogers. Rankin said other advantages are the images are immediately available, are easily stored and retrieved, and are easier to manipulate.

“You can magnify and zoom in on an image and see what is going on better over a basic picture,” Rankin said. “It is the same as a photograph on paper versus a picture on the computer. You can manipulate the picture on the computer with the picture in your hand, that is all it is. With visual imaging, you can adjust the contrast in and out, and look at dense breast tissues to see if there is really something going on there.”

When questions like that come up, if a woman has had an analog mammogram, she might need more x-rays taken. Rankin said with digital, the radiologist would more than likely be able to get the information needed from that first set of images.

Digital also takes less staff time.

“As far as throughput, from the healthcare perspective you can test a lot more digital mammography patients in a day than you can with traditional mammography,” Rankin said. “We went from having four analog machines to two digital machines, and are doing as many or more patients now with half as much equipment. The cost to the consumer for digital might be a little more expensive, but down the line the cost to maintain traditional mammography is expensive.”

Digital mammography is one of the newer technologies to improve the early detection of breast cancer. Analog or traditional mammography uses low dose x-ray that transfers images onto film. Digital mammography also uses low dose x-rays with the output sending digitally to a computer.

Benefits of digital mammography:

  • Digital machines are faster, so patients spend less time in uncomfortable positions

  • Digital image allows the radiologist’s to manipulate the image by magnifying for closer inspection

  • Brightness, darkness, or contrast can be adjusted; allows to identify subtle differences in tissues

  • No waiting for film; images immediately available

  • Digital images easily stored and retrieved

“We are going back and forth on the decision to buy a 3D machine,” Rankin said. “It is really new technology. We have looked at it, and it is more like a video versus a still shot. It is kind of like CT that slices through the body. 3D is a great feature, but we’re not sure it will deliver enough benefits to justify the higher cost.”