Study Finds Digital Mammograms Offer Superior Results

By todd

LITTLE ROCK — A recently released study funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has confirmed the superiority of digital mammography over film screen mammography in detecting breast cancer, particularly in women younger than 50 and in those with dense breasts. This technology is offered in Little Rock only at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).


UAMS has two digital mammography units and uses the technology almost exclusively, said Robert L. Fincher, M.D., director of breast imaging and medical director of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center (ACRC) Breast Center at UAMS. The ACRC Breast Center converted from the use of film mammography to digital four years ago. Appointments for digital mammograms can be scheduled by calling (501) 526-6100.


“With digital mammograms, there are never ‘bad’ or incomplete images. The images are obtained electronically and can altered in numerous ways, even after the patient has left the breast imaging clinic. The electronically obtained images can be magnified or made darker or lighter, and the contrast can be increased or decreased to allow for more accurate readings,” Fincher said. “With film, the image cannot be altered. If the initial film image is not of diagnostic quality, it has to be repeated. This exposes the patient to additional radiation.”


The NCI study, to be published in the Oct. 27 New England Journal of Medicine, included statistics on 42,760 women located at 33 sites across the United States and Canada. Each woman in the study underwent both digital and film mammography to determine if the digital procedure was more accurate in detecting breast cancer than the film screen technique.


The status of participants was based on the result of breast biopsies done within 15 months and follow-up mammograms done at least 10 months after entering the study.


The landmark results showed that the accuracy of digital mammography was significantly greater than film mammography in detecting breast cancer for women who are younger than 50, have dense breasts, are premenopausal or had her last menstrual period within 12 months of the test.


The American Cancer Society recommends that all women receive annual mammograms beginning at age 40. When detected in its early stages, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer patients is 95 percent. After the disease spreads to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate drops to 60 percent.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.3 billion a year.


UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.