Mammography is the best method that we have to detect early breast cancer. Cancers that are detected through mammography have a high chance of being cured. Over the last twenty years, several large clinical trials have shown that women invited to undergo screening mammography have significantly fewer deaths from breast cancer than those women who do not participate in a screening program. The reduction in mortality from breast cancer was at least 30% in the clinical trials and is currently thought to be even greater.
Digital mammography is a technique that was approved by the FDA about 5 years ago, and the newer equipment has an even higher resolution than earlier units. A digital mammogram is an X-ray of the breast produced on a unit similar to a film mammography unit. However, the image is captured on a detector rather than on film, and the image is transmitted to a computer workstation where it is interpreted by the radiologist. Viewing the mammogram in this manner allows the radiologist to manipulate the image. This is most helpful to visualize the breast tissue, particularly when the tissue is dense and thick.
The Digital Mammography Imaging Screening Trial (DMIST) was conducted over the last few years at multiple facilities. Nearly 50,000 women were screened with both film and digital mammography. The results of the DMIST study were reported last year and showed that digital mammography was significantly better for cancer detection in several groups of women. More cancers were found with digital mammography in women under age 50, in premenopausal and perimenopausal women and in women with dense breasts. In addition to the interpretative improvements using digital mammography, the radiation dose to acquire the mammogram is less for most women.