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Digital Mammography Better Than Film for Some Women
Date:1/29/2008

Another expert, Dr. Carol H. Lee, chairwoman of the breast imaging commission of the American College of Radiology, agreed that the take-home message is for certain women to ask for digital mammograms.

"I don't think this [new study] says anything different than the original," Lee said. "They broke down the [original] subgroups into even more subgroups, They have 10 different ones. And they basically found that digital is very substantially better for pre- and perimenopausal women under age 50 with dense breasts."

Earlier this month, a study that appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine crunched the same DMIST data and found that digital mammography was only cost-effective for this particular group of women.

In digital mammography, the X-ray film is replaced by "solid-state detectors that convert X-rays into electrical signals," according to the American College of Radiology. The detectors are akin to those found in digital cameras, and the electrical signals are used to produce breast images that can be viewed on a computer screen.

The denser the breast tissue, the more difficult it is to detect breast cancer on a mammogram, Lee explained. That's because dense tissue shows up as white on a mammogram and cancer shows up as white, too. "Fat shows up dark," she said. "So, cancer is easier to detect in fatty breasts."

If a mammogram report doesn't include information on breast density, Pisano suggested women ask their doctor or mammogram technician to provide that. Older women tend to have less dense breasts than younger women, but not always.

Digital mammography units aren't as plentiful in the United States as traditional units are, according to Arvind Gopalratnam, spokesman for GE HealthCare, a maker of digital mammography machines. About 20 percent of U.S. mammography units are digital; the other 80 percent are conventional.

The type of unit is only one factor playing a role in the
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