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What is a Digital Mammogram?

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  • Written By: Jami Yontz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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A digital mammogram uses the traditional x-ray approach, but the images of the breast tissue are taken with an electronic x-ray machine that stores the images in a digital format. The images are viewed on a computer screen, and the radiologist is then able to adjust the contrast and enhance or magnify the x-ray to reveal the results of the test. Traditional mammograms produce images on film that the radiologist and physician examine by placing the image over a source of light.

Digital mammograms require less time to record the image needed to examine for abnormalities of the breast tissue, and thus reduces the pain associated with the procedure. The exam requires the breast to be placed on a flat surface, and a device compresses the breast while the x-ray is being taken. Tissue of the breast needs to be spread out to allow the machine to view all of the tissue and prevent tissue from blocking an abnormality. The woman must remain very still and refrain from breathing while the image is being taken to prevent x-ray scatter or unreadable scans.

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Very few studies have been completed to establish the benefits of a digital mammogram, but some scientists and physician have shown promising results of the use of the technology. Since the digital screening takes less time, there have been fewer repeat mammograms because of scans that are unreadable due to movement during the imaging of the breast tissue. The digital mammogram allows the radiologist to improve the images of the test through editing techniques, which produces clearer results and easier detection of masses or tumor-like structures. This technology also ends the need for repeat scans because of under or over exposed film.

Cost of the test is an issue for some offices and patients, but because digital mammogram is stored digitally, it reduces the overhead costs of staff and space to store the films. The digital screening is completed much quicker, allowing the radiologist to complete more mammograms in a day. Women are exposed to less radiation during the shorter procedure, which could help ease the safety concerns for some patients. The advances being made in digital imaging could bring future benefits to a screening center and provide more accurate results for patients.

It is recommended that woman over the age of 50 complete a mammogram screening every two years. A mammogram can detect tumors or masses that could be a sign of breast cancer. Regular screening is recommended so a physician can compare previous scans to current images for changes or growths.

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