Digital mammography is a screening method used to identify breast cancer in an early stage.
A mammogram is a routine imaging test that is performed to screen for breast cancer. Digital mammography improves upon traditional film-based mammograms by using computer-based technology to capture detailed images of breast tissue. Today, most medical centers—including Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute—provide digital mammography services.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for average-risk women between ages 45 and 54. After age 55, mammography is recommended once every one or two years, depending on the woman’s individual breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society also encourages women ages 40 to 44 to consider annual breast cancer screening.
Digital mammography plays a vital role in helping identify breast cancer in an early stage when it is most treatable. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), mammograms can detect breast cancer up to three years before a palpable breast lump may be felt.
A digital mammogram can also expose non-cancerous breast changes, including:
- Small breast calcifications
- Dense breast tissue
A digital mammogram is a non-invasive, outpatient imaging test that can detect all types of breast cancer. Here’s a brief overview of what the procedure involves:
- The patient stands near the mammography unit.
- A specially trained mammogram technician will position each breast, one at a time, on a chest-height platform.
- The breast is slowly compressed with a plastic paddle on the platform. This is necessary to capture the clearest, highest-quality images of breast tissue possible.
- The patient changes positions slightly throughout the scan so images can be taken from multiple angles.
- The images are evaluated by a radiologist and shared with the patient and her care team.
What to Expect
A digital mammogram takes about 30 minutes to complete. There is usually mild discomfort when breast tissue is compressed, so you may want to schedule your mammogram for when your breasts are less tender (the first two weeks following your period, in most cases). You’ll also be advised to:
- Avoid applying deodorant or lotion underneath your arms the day of your mammogram
- Inform your mammogram technician of any new breast changes or symptoms before the procedure
- Bring along previous mammogram results, if possible
It’s also important to inform the mammogram technician, along with your regular care team, if you are pregnant. There is very little risk associated with digital mammography, as a minimal amount of radiation is used.