2012: Breast Cancer Digital mammography offers enhanced detection

Early detection of breast cancer improves the chance for cure. Digital mammography is a new form of mammography. It is faster, safer, and much better in detecting early breast cancer.  Digital mammography uses an electronic plate instead of X-ray film to capture the mammographic image. 

This takes seconds and does not require developing film, and it works just like a digital camera. This technique is safer because it uses advanced electronics, reducing the radiation dose often by 50 percent.  Because the technologist taking the images can see the result instantly, there are fewer retakes also leading to less radiation exposure.

Most importantly, in a recent study of almost 50,000 women published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared digital mammography to older film mammography and found that digital mammography was significantly better in detecting breast cancer, in some cases nearly 30-percent better.  Digital mammography was particularly helpful in women with dense breasts, but also was more accurate in most women.

Mammographers or radiologists who specialize in mammography are able to take these digital images and use computers to further enhance them.  They can use computer workstations to improve the images, depending on the type of breast tissue. 

The computer workstation often provides an instant second opinion often called “Computer Aided Detection” or CAD.

Medicare has been quick to recognize this superior technology and pays a slight premium for centers that use it.  Most private insurers will cover the cost of a digital mammogram, but generally do not pay more than the regular rate.

A digital mammogram machine often costs nearly $500,000 while older film machines can cost less than $30,000.  Radiology providers in Arizona have been slow to adopt this life-saving technology in part because of the much increased cost and lack of increased reimbursement from most insurance plans. 

Unfortunately, some providers use both types of equipment, leaving to chance whether the patient gets the better exam. 

In summary, digital mammography has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in breast cancer detection in decades.  To take advantage of this new technology, ask for a digital mammogram. By insisting on better technology, you will also join others committed to the fight against breast cancer.


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