Healthwatch: Benefits of Digital Mammography

Digital mammography is images of the breast, captured by a special electronic x-ray detector. According to Dr. Sandra Pupa, a radiologist with Women's Healthcare Center in Meridian, the detailed pictures are enhanced by a computer and displayed on high-resolution monitors.

This is a far cry from the traditional mammogram, which is an x-ray placed on a light box and then examined with a magnifying glass for very small specks that might show up.

"It makes it very difficult to miss anything," said Pupa. "And then you take this image that's already pretty to begin with, you can manipulate it electronically and change the magnification and the brightness and the contrast, so the radiologist can see things much easier with digital mammography."

Pupa said this form of mammography has been proven to be better, especially for people under 50, women in peri-menopausal years, anyone with dense breasts.

"Dense breasts means there's lots of white tissue on the x-ray. So cancers are white. They're white blobs or they're white specks. So if the background tissues are white, then it's difficult to see some cancers," Pupa said. "But with digital mammograms, the penetration of the breast tissue is much better and the contrast is better so we are more able to see small cancers in these people who have a lot of background dense tissues in their breasts."

Pupa said the patient will really not know a difference in the procedure, but fewer repeat mammograms are necessary. Pupa said women and men need to know the predominant signs of breast cancer.

"A hard lump that does not hurt or if the skin around the nipple got really red and inflamed. That can be a sign of infection. It can also be a sign of cancer," said Pupa. "Or a fluid just spontaneously ran out of a nipple."

All women need a yearly mammogram after age 40. And if a mother or sister had breast cancer, start screenings 10 years before they were diagnosed, or age 40, whichever is younger.

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