Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the U.S. by nearly one-third since 1990, says Mammography Saves Lives, a coalition of nonprofit medical associations representing a broad spectrum of breast cancer care experts.
The low-dose X-ray exam finds abnormal breast changes, records them on film or directly into a computer for a radiologist to examine.
"The detection of breast cancer is not always the end goal," said Dr.
Breast X-rays started in the 1950s. Before that, breast cancer screening was done by physical examination, Dixon said.
In the 1970s and '80s, random studies were done on who received mammograms and who did not to determine the exam's effectiveness.
Digital mammography materialized in 2004, says a 2008 article on the
"When they were doing those trials, we didn't have digital detectors. They used film," Dixon said.
They found that breast cancer detection is not black and white.
"People who still get mammograms will still die (of breast cancer)," Dixon said.
But annual mammograms can detect cancer early, when it is most treatable. They can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.
"It's a combination of early detection and treatment," Dixon said.
Some say that's too frequent. But, Dixon said. "There's still good data to recommend a mammogram every year. That's still my recommendation. Not everyone participates at that level. And if we lower that bar, it may diminish the perceived importance of any screening."
Employees at St. Luke's medical center in
Nuffer made an appointment for her exam
"Literally, it's just a few minutes," she said.
Digital mammography is offered almost everywhere, Dixon said. In February,
Before digital mammography,
The new equipment has been well received, said
Mammograms used to take about 30 minutes. Now they take no more than 15 minutes.
The newest technology in mammography is digital tomosynthesis, a three-dimensional picture of the breast using X-rays.
"You are scrolling through a picture instead of looking at it," Dixon said.
Digital tomosynthesis eliminates three big issues with mammograms: uncomfortable breast compression, overlapping of breast tissue that can hide cancer cells from detection and a limited image of the breast from top to bottom and side to side.
Tomosynthesis provides an image in slices, Dixon said.
It takes several pictures of the breast at different angles and reconstructs those in a series.
"It's promising, and I don't know if it's going to make a big difference," he said.
St. Luke's only tomosynthesis machine is in
"Our mammogram rates have plateaued. We'd like to see more first-timers," Dixon said. "It's hard because we are asking people to do something when they are not sick. Most women will not develop breast cancer, but compared to other diseases, it's common. We diagnose breast cancer every week."
(c)2013 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)
Visit The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) at magicvalley.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services