Komen for the Cure

Breast Cancer Easier To Detect With Digital Mammograms

Posted September 1, 2006
Updated May 11, 2007

— Digital mammography is a powerful tool for spotting breast cancer, and a system recently approved by federal regulators could soon make it more accessible.

Traditionally mammograms are captured on film, and radiologists use a magnifying glass to search for signs of breast cancer. But physicians say digital mammograms offer a much closer and clearer view.

"Digital allows you to manipulate the image. You can zoom in, you can magnify, you can look at different areas," said Dr. Kristen Byrne, a radiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Studies show digital imaging is better than film at detecting early breast cancer, especially in women under age 50. But most American women can't get digital mammograms because only 12 percent of the nation's hospitals have digital machines.

Replacing a film machine with a digital one is expensive. So, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new system made by Fuji that allows hospitals to go digital for half the cost.

The system uses plates that can be swapped out between film cassettes and digital image recorders. Digital images can immediately be sent to a radiologist.

"They don't have to go into a darkroom and develop the film. I'm not waiting between films," Byrne said.

Lenox Hill Hospital is the first to get the new technology, but Fuji officials projected that hundreds of hospitals across the country would make the conversion in the next couple of years.

"I've read about (digital mammograms), and the radiologists have assured me that it's the best thing for me," patient Joanne Durney said.

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