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Digital Vs. Screen-Film Mammography - Saving One Life at a Time

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What a world of difference it made for me training on digital mammography! I was dreading going to my new job and getting trained on the digital process. I am not an extremely tech savvy person. But I do consider myself pretty comfortable working with computers. As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. On the contrary, I enjoyed the whole experience of training on this advanced machine. I also found that patients having screening mammograms on digital machines are more comfortable and do less complaining. It took me but a day to figure out the pros and cons of the procedures and processing part of the digital machines. I wouldn't say it was a piece of cake for me, but at least it isn't scary anymore.

Digital mammography machines work on the same principles as conventional machines. They both work with X-rays. Patient positioning and compression is the same on both. Shorter exam times, exposure times, almost no repeats, and less radiation exposure are among the benefits that patients enjoy when they get mammograms on the digital machines. As far as the image accuracy is concerned digital mammography is comparable to conventional systems.

Digital machines are equipped with digital receptors that determine the amount of radiation exposure for different breast types as opposed to conventional machines that require a cassette with film placed inside the cassette holder. Exposure factors are automatically adjusted according to the density of the breast being exposed. Digital machines are connected to other computers that display the images on the technologists' workstation, and the radiologists' workstation. Patient information and prior mammography images are attached and sent to the concerning interpreting physician in order to compare with the current procedure. The results are then sent directly to the patient's physician. Whereas conventional screen/film systems require the patient to wait after the procedure in order for the technologist to process the films in the darkroom to make sure the techniques and positioning are okay, digital machines eliminate this extra step to save waiting time. (Radiologic Technology Magazine.)

On the digital machines images can be manipulated in order to get the contrast and resolution on the final results so no repeats are required. The images are displayed as the patients are being X-rayed after exposure of each position and while the patients are in the room. This feature eliminates the number of repeat exams and reduce the anxiety for the patients who are called back. Even though the patients are still positioned and compression is applied, because of shorter exposure times radiation dose is significantly reduced. The higher sensitivity of the detectors make image resolution much clearer than the conventional machines where technical factors, density of the breast, darkroom conditions during film processing(higher/lower chemical temperatures) played a big part in image accuracy.

Digital mammography is especially beneficial for young patients or patients with extremely dense breasts where image accuracy was sometimes compromised in the conventional system. Calcifications and other abnormalities are pin-pointed clearly in digital systems for the radiologists to do accurate readings and detect breast cancers. This feature is especially helpful for patients undergoing biopsies and needle localizations. Stereotactic biopsies done in conjunction with digital machines cut down the time a patient is in an uncomfortable position which also cuts down on the total procedure time. Diagnostic mammograms where patients come back for special spot/magnification images are made easier. The performing technologist can interact with the radiologist while the patient waits in the room so the results will be given to the patient right away. This eliminates patient's anxiety and technologist/radiologist time as well. (Imaginis-women's health resource)

Patient images and history are archived in the computer systems so there is no need to look through the hard copies or films that are filed manually. If a patient requests to carry prior exams, it is made easier by accessing the images from the computer storage and printing them while they wait. Picture archiving systems (PACS) are linked to other remote systems where patient information and images are available to be viewed by concerning physicians performing lumpectomy/mastectomy procedures. The results are then conveyed to the primary physicians via intra office communications software. Because everything is archived in the systems there is no chance of lost records or films being spoiled over the years.

The major drawback of digital mammography machines is the cost factors. An average system costs anywhere from one-and-a-half to four times more than conventional machines.(Imaginis-women's health resource). Digital mammography overall comes as a winner, not only in aiding early detection of breast cancers and treatment plans to save lives, but also in its image quality, accuracy, shorter examination times, faster results, and reduced recall rates. These all serve to help women with their anxieties and reservations about coming for a yearly mammogram in order to take steps towards a healthy and happy life because, OUR LIFE MATTERS.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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