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Why Mammography Technology Matters

Scripps radiologists specialize in reading breast images, from mammograms to ultrasounds and MRIs

Mammography technician assisting patient in gown while both stand in front of mammography screening equipment.

by Maya Borso, MD, Diagnostic Radiologist

Word of mouth may be a great way to find the best pizza joint or a new hairstylist, but when it comes to your mammograms, going wherever your friend goes isn’t always a good idea.

While many radiology centers offer mammograms, not all of them offer the best or latest technology for detecting early stage breast cancer. Also, they might not have staff who are experts in reading breast mammograms or working with women who have breast implants or have had other breast surgeries.

When it comes to a life-changing event like breast cancer, you want to make sure you’re getting the best diagnostic care possible. Look for a breast care center that offers the following features.

Digital mammography

This technology captures and stores X-ray images directly onto a computer instead of old-fashioned film. Benefits of digital mammography include:

  • Immediate results. Your mammography technician sees the photo seconds after she takes it. She’ll know immediately whether she got a good view or if she needs to do a retake.
  • Image control. Your radiologist can lighten, darken and enlarge digital images. This is particularly helpful when you have dense breast tissue because the tissue, as well as tumors, appears white on the X-ray. By manipulating the images and creating more contrast, your radiologist can more easily spot abnormalities in dense breast tissue.

3D mammography (tomosynthesis)

This newer technology takes pictures of thin layers of your breast from different angles to form a 3D image of your breast. Benefits of 3D mammography include:

  • Clearer imaging. The 3D technology enables your doctor to view your breast tissue one layer at a time. As with conventional digital images, your doctor can manipulate the images. These options make it easier to spot abnormalities in breast tissue.
  • Improved cancer detection. Three-dimensional viewing may make it easier to spot cancer. In one study, 3D mammography combined with 2D digital screenings caught 41 percent more invasive cancers compared to conventional digital screenings alone.
  • Fewer false positives. As many as 10 percent of women who get a screening mammogram must return for a follow-up or diagnostic mammogram because something looks suspicious. A majority of these women experience a false positive — a suspected cancerous spot on a mammogram that turns out to be benign, or not cancerous. 3D mammography may reduce false positive callbacks by up to 40 percent.

Additional technologies

Discovering that you have a potentially cancerous area in your breast is only the first step. Your breast care center should have other technologies available to get you through the diagnostic process. These include:

  • Ultrasounds. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your breast. At Scripps Health, you often can get a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on the same day so you get answers sooner.
  • MRIs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields to create images of the breast. This is helpful for cancer diagnosis and staging. Our staff can get you in for an MRI quickly.

Experienced staff

Technology is only as good as the people using it. At Scripps Health, many of our radiologists specialize in reading breast images, including mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires radiologists who interpret mammograms to read at least 960 mammograms during a two-year period. Our radiologists carefully read the equivalent of a year’s worth of mammograms — 480 images — in just one month. This makes them extremely adept at catching even the smallest abnormalities.

Mammogram technology continues to evolve and improve. Learn more about the importance of getting an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Maya Borso, MD, a diagnostic radiologist at Scripps Mercy in San Diego. Learn more about breast care at Scripps.