If you’re a woman with dense breast tissue, or haven’t gone through menopause, or are under age 50, studies show that digital mammograms may be better than conventional film mammograms for detecting early breast cancer.
Both digital and conventional mammography use X-ray radiation to produce an image of the breast. The difference is, conventional mammography stores the image directly on film while digital mammography takes an electronic image of the breast and stores it directly in a computer. This allows the recorded data to be enhanced, magnified or manipulated for further evaluation.
The procedure for having a mammogram with a digital system is the same as with conventional mammography. The difference between the two systems is comparable to the difference between a traditional film camera and a digital camera. With a digital mammogram, the image’s brightness and darkness – or contrast – can be adjusted, and sections of the image can be magnified. This makes it easier for radiologists to see subtle differences in the breast. The ability to increase contrast when imaging dense breasts is particularly important because dense breast tissue and malignant cells both appear to be white on film mammogram, making it more difficult to detect abnormalities in dense breasts.
Dense Breast Tissue
Breasts appear dense on a mammogram if they contain many glands and ligaments (called dense tissue), and do not have much fatty tissue. Because breast cancers tend to develop in the dense tissue of the breast (not in the fatty tissue), women whose mammograms show more dense tissue are at an increased risk of breast cancer. Dense breast tissue can be seen in women of any age but typically is seen in women under age 50 and women who are pre-menopausal or peri-menopausal (had a last menstrual period within 12 months of their mammogram.)
“Getting a mammography screening, whether digital or film, remains the best method for early breast cancer detection. Digital mammography, however, provides increased image sensitivity especially for cancer that presents as micro calcifications, and for detection of early cancer in dense breasts,” said Lydia Liao, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., Director of Women’s Imaging in the Department of Radiology at Cooper. “This technology affords radiologists added assistance in interpreting the findings, thus improving cancer-screening accuracy especially for women with dense breasts,” Dr. Liao said.
Digital Mammography Services
Digital mammography can be done only in facilities that are certified to practice conventional mammography and have received FDA approval to offer digital mammography. Cooper’s digital mammography services, available at Cooper University Radiology facilities in Voorhees, Cherry Hill and Camden, are further distinguished as “Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence,” as designated by the American College of Radiology (ACR). Cooper is the only hospital-based breast imaging center in South Jersey to receive this designation. This national award recognizes Cooper’s broad spectrum of breast cancer early detection and treatment services, and assures patients that all personnel are highly qualified through education and certification to perform and interpret medical images, and administer radiation therapy treatments.
The designation also certifies that equipment is appropriate for the test or treatment being delivered and that the facility meets or exceeds quality-assurance and safety guidelines.
“As part of the breast-care program at The Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at Cooper Cancer Institute, our breast imaging services achieved the highest standard for providing screening exams, with full-field digital mammography and diagnostic imaging modalities that include high-resolution breast ultrasound, breast MRI and PET-CT, and state-of-the-art breast interventional procedures for problem solving, cancer staging and treatments,” Dr. Liao said.
For patients, an ACR-designated Breast Imaging Center of Excellence provides a quick way to identify the best mammography and breast imaging center available. The designation at Cooper means that patients not only have access to the highest quality of diagnostic care, but also to the multi-disciplinary clinical approach offered at a premier academic-medical center.