Picture Perfect Breast Exams, Better Detection

Reporter: Shannon Samson

Web Producer: Jason Bailey

The images produced by conventional mammography, take some time to develop, and because of their quality, the radiologist sometimes has to use a magnifying glass to search for suspicious masses in a limited area.

From another angle, digital mammography allows radiologists to see the pectoralis major muscle. With this, they can distiguish between what is healthy breast tissue, and what is not.

With a few clicks of the mouse, the radiologist can get an even better look.

Caryn Anderson, M.D. Radiologist says, "What she's got is a small cancer and if we want to magnify it and you can see what we call an indistinct mass."

The computer also prompts the radiologist to check out other areas of interest.

Similar technology that is in your digital camera is helping to save lives. Digital mammography uses special detectors that convert x-rays into electrical signals.

Radiologists access these images on a computer screen and can manipulate them to their advantage when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer.

"Mammography is not perfect and we miss some cancers and so, what we've done is the computer-aided detection points out the areas, we go back, and we make sure we've looked at them and decide what to do about them," says Anderson.

About 10-percent of breast cancer goes undiagnosed, because it's either not visible or the radiologist misses it.

Serving as a second set of eyes, computer-aided detection brings the failure rate down to 8-percent.

Patients can get the results the same day and usually don't have to have a second uncomfortable mammogram.

Anderson says, "The digital does decrease the recall rate which means fewer ladies have to come back for additional pictures because of the magnification capability, [and] I don't have to magnify areas in the breast that I see."

The less time spent in the testing room, the lower the radiation exposure for patients.

The new technology requires the same amount of breast compression as the conventional mammogram, but it allows physicians to get the best picture.

Though it does cost three times as much, most insurance will cover the testing.