A new study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology shows that digital mammography delivers even less radiation than conventional film mammography. This is another step forward for breast cancer screening with mammography, which saves thousands of lives each year through early detection.
When you get a mammogram, a very small dose of radiation is used to take a picture of your breasts. It's about the same amount that you would get from your natural surroundings during three months. Because the dose is low, the benefits of mammography outweigh the risks from the radiation.
Nonetheless, researchers wanted to compare the radiation doses delivered with digital and standard film mammography. To do this, they looked at data from 5,102 women who underwent both types of breast cancer screening. They found that the average dose of radiation per person was 17 percent lower for digital mammography.
Digital mammography uses X-rays to make an image of the breast, just like conventional film mammography. But instead of storing the picture on film, digital mammography sends the image to a computer.
In general, digital and film mammography are similar in how well they show cancer. But, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 showed that digital mammography found up to 28 percent more cancers than film mammography in women younger than 50 and in those with dense breasts.
Digital mammography first became available in the U.S. in 2000. Today, more than 60 percent of U.S. breast imaging centers offer digital mammography. It costs more than film mammography, however.
Both standard film mammography and digital mammography work well to help detect breast cancer. If digital mammography is not available in your area, you should still get your regular mammogram.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently issued new guidelines for breast cancer screening. It suggests that women ages 50 to 74 receive screening mammograms every two years. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 40 and older have mammograms every year for as long as they are in good health.
Here are some tips to help you get a high-quality mammogram in either digital or film format:
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American Journal of Roentgenology - Comparison of Acquisition Parameters and Breast Dose in Digital Mammography and Screen-Film Mammography in the American College of Radiology Imaging Network Digital Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial
Maybe you felt a lump. Or a mammogram found a suspicious spot. While either of these scenarios can be scary, it doesn't always mean that you have cancer.
Most findings that show up on mammograms are benign, meaning they aren't cancer. The most common benign findings are fibrocystic changes, which cause breast lumpiness. Other benign masses include breast cysts and tumors called fibroadenomas.
After a mammogram, your doctor can confirm that a mass or lesion is benign with other tests, such as breast ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, or biopsy. With a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed for examination.
Some benign masses can raise the risk for breast cancer, so they may be removed with surgery.
Even though most of time it isn't cancer, mammography is an important tool for detecting breast cancer early on, when it's easiest to treat. But the benefits and limitations of mammography vary based on factors like age and personal risk.
Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.