Mammography is the single most effective method for detecting breast cancer in it's earliest stages. The American Cancer Society recommends a baseline study at 35-40 years of age; at 40-49 years of age a study every 1 to 2 years then every year for women over 50 years of age. The three key elements to early detection are a physician exam once a year, monthly self-exam and a mammogram at the recommended intervals.
From a patient’s point of view, having a digital mammogram is very much like having a conventional screen-film mammogram. Both film-based and digital mammography use compression and x-rays to create clear images of the inside of the breast. During all mammography exams, a female technologist positions the patient to image the breast from different angles and compresses the breast with a paddle to obtain optimal image quality. Although this may be uncomfortable, it should not be painful. Communicate with your technologist to let her know how you are feeling. Keep in mind that more compression means a more detailed and accurate study.
Unlike film-based mammography, digital mammograms produce images that appear on the technologist's monitor in a matter of seconds. There is no waiting for film to develop, which can mean a shorter time spent in the breast imaging suite.
With digital mammography, the radiologist reviews electronic images of the breast, using special high-resolution monitors.
The physician can adjust the brightness, change contrast, and zoom in for close ups of specific areas of interest. Being able to manipulate images is one of the main benefits of digital technology.
Questionable areas seen on the routine mammogram are usually benign (not cancer). The question can be resolved in a number of ways. The best way is to compare the current study to a previous mammogram. This is very important and can answer most questions. If we think the questionable area is just a combination of shadows, we can ask for a spot compression, which often separates the tissues and clarifies the region. At times the Radiologist may recommend an ultrasound of the breast to evaluate a nodule. The ultrasound helps to determine if something is a solid mass or a fluid filled mass. Spot compression, magnification and ultrasound recommendations usually require a return visit for completion.