Digital mammography uses x-rays to produce images of breast tissue. With digital mammography, an electronic x-ray detector (a phosphor screen) converts the x-ray photons to light, which in turn passes though a fiberoptic cable to device that converts the light to a digitalized signal for display on a computer monitor. The radiologist can alter the orientation, magnification, brightness and contrast of the images as desired.
Optimal positioning and compression are critical in identifying a suspicious lesion. With digital mammography the technologist will know within 30 seconds whether the images are satisfactory.
Digital Mammography versus film/screen mammography is significantly better in screening women:
- Under age 50 (no matter what level of breast tissue density they had).
- Of any age with very dense or extremely dense breasts.
- Of any age who are pre- or peri- menopauseal (defined as women who had a final menstrual period within 12 months of their mammograms).
- Potential Advantages of Digital Mammography
- Digital mammography images are acquired in less than a minute. A faster exam may induce more women to comply with screening at recommended intervals, and it should make mammography facilities more efficient.
- Spot-view digital systems now are available to help guide breast biopsy by recording a snapshot of the area of interest. This permits more rapid and accurate needle placement, speeding the biopsy procedure and minimizing discomfort.
- The superior contrast resolution of digital mammography (especially in dense breast tissues) and its ability to manipulate images might in time make for more accurate detection of breast cancers.
- Digital mammography lends itself well to another innovation, computer-aided detection (CAD), which obtains a second, computerized reading in the hope of finding more cancers or more accurately gauging signs of malignancy.
- Computerized mammograms may be archived in various ways, easily retrieved, and copied exactly. Digital mammograms also can be transmitted from one location to another, permitting off-line interpretations and expert consultation (telemammography).
- Digital mammography offers the possibility of three-dimensional breast tomography using relatively low radiation doses.