A landmark study found that mammograms using digital imaging to help detect breast cancer are better than standard x-rays for young women and those with dense breasts. The newer test, however, is not a better indicator for most postmenopausal women.
Each of the 42,760 participants received both types of mammograms. The results were independently reviewed by 2 radiologists, and biopsies determined whether suspicious findings were indeed cancer. Follow-up examinations were conducted a year later to determine how many cancers had been missed the first time around. The researchers had detected a total of 335 breast cancers. Both mammograms missed about 30% of them.
Specifically, the digital mammograms were 15% more accurate, compared with standard film x-rays in women under age 50. For women with dense breasts and those not going through menopause, digital mammograms were 11% and 15% better, respectively. Although digital mammograms are more expensive and are not widely used today, physicians expect that they will become the norm because of their advantages. Digital mammograms can be stored on a computer and sent electronically whenever a woman moves or a new physician needs to review them.