Are Digital Mammograms Superior to the Regular Kind for Women of Every Age?

Deborah Armstrong, M.D.In digital mammography, the X-ray is converted into an electrical signal that can be displayed on a computer screen or printed as an image that looks like a regular mammogram. The patient’s experience is no different from having a traditional mammogram. Digital mammograms can sometimes use a lower overall dose of radiation to the breast.

The differences between traditional and digital mammography are similar to the differences between traditional and digital photography. Some benefits of digital mammography are that the radiologist can manipulate the digital mammogram electronically to magnify an area, change contrast, or alter the brightness. In addition, the images are available immediately, without waiting for film to develop, and the images can be transmitted electronically from remote locations for centralized reading.

Digital mammograms can only be performed by a facility that is certified to perform them and digital mammography is more expensive than traditional mammography. The cost of digital mammography may thus not be covered by all insurance plans. Early studies comparing digital and traditional mammography haven’t shown a difference in breast-cancer detection. However, there may be a lower chance of women being called back for a repeat mammogram when digital imaging is used. Digital mammograms may be particularly useful in women with dense breasts, a finding more common in younger women.