Breast cancer

19 August 2009

Digital mammography beats film

The switch from film mammography to digital mammography has led to an increase in breast cancer detection rates, researchers from California report.

The switch from film mammography to digital mammography has led to an increase in breast cancer detection rates, researchers from California report.

According to Drs Fred S Vernacchia and Zachary G Pena, of the San Luis Diagnostic Centre, San Luis Obispo, up to 70% of screening facilities in the US are still using film-screen mammography.

Based on their experience, Vernacchia said, "I would certainly encourage look for facilities that have digital technology."

Image computerised
Conventional mammography involves the creation of a breast image directly onto film. With digital mammography, by contrast, an electronic image is taken and stored in a computer. The display characteristics of the image can then be manipulated and the radiologist can use software to help detect breast abnormalities.

Vernacchia and Pena analysed data on 4,838 mammography screenings done in the year before they converted to digital mammography and on more than 21,500 screenings done over the subsequent 3 years.

Substantial increase in detection
They found that there was a significant increase in the number of breast cancers detected following the switch from film-screen to digital mammography.

The number of cancers detected prior to the switch averaged between 4.1 to 4.5 cancers per 1,000 women imaged. Following the switch, the cancer detection rate increased to 7.9 cancers per 1,000 women imaged and has remained high.

"It is clear, at least to me," Vernacchia told Reuters Health, "that there exists a clinical superiority of digital over film-screen mammography."

"I am hoping," he concluded, "that as more facilities convert from film-screen to digital, they will share their results with the rest of the medical community." - (David Douglas/Reuters Health, August 2009)

SOURCE: American Journal of Roentgenology, August 2009.

Read more:
Reasons to go for a mammogram


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Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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