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Digital mammography is a great way to be proactive about breast health
by Dr. Randall Pierce
Apr 10, 2011 | 1376 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Randall Pierce
Dr. Randall Pierce
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Doctors agree: Mammography is essential in the early detection of breast cancer. About 40,000 people die of breast cancer annually, and preventative measures remain key in significantly reducing the mortality rate.

While some view mammography as inconvenient, advancements in technology have allowed for faster and more accurate imaging techniques. Because of early detection methods such as mammography, the breast cancer rate has dropped by 30 percent over the past 30 years.

Many women are accustomed to the traditional methods of mammography that utilize x-ray film to capture images of the breast tissue. However, the benefits of utilizing digital mammography are overwhelming. Digital mammography technology allows doctors to obtain computerized images of these tissues in a matter of seconds. Traditional film can be damaged, scratched or lost prior to the physician examining the images, which leads to unnecessary retakes and more discomfort for the patient. Digital images also are easily stored on the computer and can be quickly transferred to other caregivers.

Digital technology provides doctors with high-resolution images, giving them the ability to enhance the contrast, brightness and clarity of the images to ensure that even the smallest abnormality is detected. Doctors also are able to zoom in on areas of concern that require further examination. The ability to refine the images has led to more accurate diagnoses of tissue abnormalities than with traditional film images.

Another benefit over traditional X-ray film is the ability to manipulate images to ensure accuracy. Small abnormalities called microcalcifications are easier to diagnose with digital technology because doctors can zoom in on an area. With X-ray film, patients would have to return for a retake of the images to confirm any issues. This could prove to be time consuming, stressful and expensive for the patient. With digital mammography, these return visits are rarely necessary.

Yearly mammograms are highly recommended for all women over the age of 40. Depending on family history and predisposing factors, doctors might recommend earlier or more frequent mammograms to monitor any changes in the breast tissue. Other diagnostic tests could be recommended based on the patient’s perceived level of risk for developing cancer.

In addition to obtaining annual mammograms, it is important to be aware of the look and feel of the breast tissues. Changes in the size and shape of the breasts can be indicators of cancer, as can abnormal discharge from the nipples and the development of lumps. Pain and swelling are also concerning symptoms and should be discussed with a physician immediately.

Certain factors, such as age, race, obesity and family history can increase the likelihood of an individual developing breast cancer. Discussing these factors with a physician is helpful in developing an individualized plan for early detection.

Certain lifestyle changes such as limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active can all reduce the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Northern Nevada Medical Center offers digital mammography and an online breast cancer risk assessment tool. To learn more about your risk of developing breast cancer, visit http://healthinfo.northernnvmed.com/InteractiveTools/RiskAssessments.

During April and May, the Diagnostic Breast Care Center at NNMC is offering digital mammograms for a reduced rate of $155 for self-paid procedures at the time of service — nearly half the standard rate. Call 356-5800 to schedule your annual mammogram and start fighting back against breast cancer.

Randall Pierce, MD, is the medical director for diagnostic imaging at Northern Nevada Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from the University of California at San Francisco, and he completed his residency at the University of California at San Diego.
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