Digital mammography is performed in exactly the same way as screen film mammography. Instead of using film, however, the images are captured by technology similar to that used for digital cameras which convert the image to an electrical signal. The image is then stored electronically which allows for easier storage & transmission of images & allows for manipulation of the image such as adjusting contrast & magnification to asses calcifications. The ease of manipulating the image leads to a decrease in “call-backs” & less patient stress. In addition, digital mammography requires less compression resulting in greater comfort & less radiation exposure to the breast.
The question of whether digital mammography increases early detection of breast cancer was addressed in a recent study in the NEJM. Overall, there was no difference in cancer detection or stage of breast cancer between the 2 modalities. However, digital mammography was more sensitive than traditional screen film mammography in detecting abnormalities in women aged less than 50, women with dense breasts, & pre or peri-menopausal women.
There are still many questions including whether the increased detection in this subgroup translates into a difference in survival, & whether the increased cost of the new technology is justified.