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There are benefits to digital mammography
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Q: What is digital mammography?

A: Full-field digital mammography is a relatively new type of mammography equipment that is becoming more popular for breast exams because of its many appealing benefits. Mammography still remains the best method for early breast cancer detection. However, the traditional film-screen mammography has been found to be limited in detecting cancers in some patients - including those who have "dense" breast tissue.

Digital mammography uses low-energy X-rays that pass through the breast tissue and are recorded by an electronic digital detector. The electronic image can be displayed on a video monitor - like a TV, or printed onto film. The image can then be adjusted to easily locate and view tissue abnormalities that may have developed.

The digital process is the same as film mammography except for the way the image is produced and viewed. Film mammography also uses low-energy X-rays to pass through the breast tissue. However, the X-rays are absorbed by film that later has to be developed to view the image. Developing the film takes longer, and the resulting image may not be as clear - which can lead to less accurate results.

Q: What are some of the benefits with digital mammography?

A: Unlike film mammography, digital mammography takes an electronic image of the breast and stores it in a computer. This detailed image is instantly and securely transported for expert review with the touch of a button. The digital images can also be easily stored and retrieved for follow-up appointments or checkups. Your healthcare provider can easily send the images to a specialist if it is necessary.

Radiologists can magnify the image during their review and use advanced computer technology to detect potential abnormalities or differences in tissue. The digital technology allows the radiologist or technician to have flexibility with the brightness, darkness or contrast of the image.

Since there is no waiting for the film to be developed, digital images are available almost immediately. The technologist can evaluate the quality of the image seconds after it is taken, meaning the patient has less time spent in the exam room and rarely will they need to return for repeat images due to poor exposures. Because the digital machine is so fast, you will also spend less time in uncomfortable positions.

The process also uses less radiation than film mammography. For patients with dense breast tissue or those who have found abnormalities in their breast tissue, research shows the benefits of digital mammography are significant. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about digital mammography, and how it can benefit you.

- About the Author

Dr. Townsend provides well-woman and obstetric care to women of all ages. She received her medical degree from Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I., and completed her residency at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Townsend sees patients at both Monroe Clinic's women's health center in Monroe and Highland Women's Care in Freeport. To make an appointment in Monroe, call the women's health center at (608) 324-2241. To make an appointment in Freeport, call Monroe Clinic-Highland Women's Care at (815) 233-0999.