There may be a better way to tell if women are at risk for breast cancer, by viewing their mammograms on a computer. Doctor Laurie Fajardo, head of radiology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, says her department took part in one of the largest studies ever done. It was a national trial that looked at conventional mammography, done on film and compared it with new technology that views the image electronically, or digitally. Fajardo was lead investigator in the study, which included about 50-thousand women over four years. She says the results were published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. For a “significant percentage” of women, the new digital technology performs better than the old X-Ray type film they’ve used. Doctor Fajardo explains the breast exams were done in the usual manner. The difference was in the way the data was handled so doctors and technicians could view it. Rather than being collected on film, it was collected electronically — she explains instead of printing a picture, they read it off a computer which let the techs use tools to enhance and bring out more information in the mammogram than they could just looking at “a picture on a film.” They’re looking for small, subtle signs, she explains…and viewing the mammograms of women whose breast tissue is dense can make it hard to spot cancerous lumps until they’ve grown “larger than we’d like to find them.” Mammograms viewed as a digital computer image could pinpoint lumps earlier when prevention’s more likely. Dr. Fajardo says cost will be a factor in changing to digital mammography. A digital mammography system will cost a quarter-Million to 300-thousand dollars, not the most expensive technology in the hospital but still three times the cost of the current film machine. She says a complete M-R-I unit will cost two-Million by comparison, but she understands cost will be one barrier to getting the digital technology into every clinic and medical center.
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