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Mammography

Mammography is specialized medical imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to see inside the breasts. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, aids in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women.An x-ray (radiograph) is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. Imaging with x-rays involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging.Three recent advances in mammography include digital mammography, computer-aided detection and breast tomosynthesis.

Digital mammography, also called full-field digital mammography (FFDM), is a mammography system in which the x-ray film is replaced by electronics that convert x-rays into mammographic pictures of the breast. These systems are similar to those found in digital cameras and their efficiency enables better pictures with a lower radiation dose. These images of the breast are transferred to a computer for review by the radiologist and for long term storage. The patient’s experience during a digital mammogram is similar to having a conventional film mammogram.

Computer-aided detection (CAD) systems search digitized mammographic images for abnormal areas of density, mass, or calcification that may indicate the presence of cancer. The CAD system highlights these areas on the images, alerting the radiologist to carefully assess this area.

Breast tomosynthesis, also called three-dimensional (3-D) mammography and digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), is an advanced form of breast imaging where multiple images of the breast from different angles are captured and reconstructed (“synthesized”) into a three-dimensional image set. In this way, 3-D breast imaging is similar to computed tomography (CT) imaging in which a series of thin “slices” are assembled together to create a 3-D reconstruction of the body.

Although the radiation dose for some breast tomosynthesis systems is slightly higher than the dosage used in standard mammography, it remains within the FDA-approved safe levels for radiation from mammograms. Some systems have doses very similar to conventional mammography.

Large population studies have shown that screening with breast tomosynthesis results in improved breast cancer detection rates and fewer “call-backs,” instances where women are called back from screening for additional testing because of a potentially abnormal finding.

Breast tomosynthesis may also result in:

· earlier detection of small breast cancers that may be hidden on a conventional mammogram

· greater accuracy in pinpointing the size, shape and location of breast abnormalities

· fewer unnecessary biopsies or additional tests

· greater likelihood of detecting multiple breast tumors

· clearer images of abnormalities within dense breast tissue
What are some common uses of the procedure?

Mammograms are used as a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms. They can also be used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain, skin dimpling or nipple discharge.

Screening Mammography
Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40. Research has shown that annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers, when they are most curable and breast-conservation therapies are available.

Diagnostic Mammography
Diagnostic mammography is used to evaluate a patient with abnormal clinical findings—such as a breast lump or nipple discharge—that have been found by the woman or her doctor. Diagnostic mammography may also be done after an abnormal screening mammogram in order to evaluate the area of concern on the screening exam.