The results are in. It is clear after a national test involving nearly 50,000 patients that digital mammography produces greater benefits to women who are under age 50, have extremely dense breasts or are pre- or peri-menopausal than film version of mammography testing.
This is great news for those patients receiving mammography at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center since this staff at this facility was the first in the state of Iowa to take a look at new technology.
The superior technology of the digital mammography equipment is a good fit in the BVRMC's Women's Center, where patients are treated like royally. There are private dressing rooms with comfortable cotton robes and flavored coffee. BVRMC's skilled staff attends to all the needs of the mammography patients.
Several site visits to hospitals using digital mammography equipment were made by staff members to determine if this was the type of equipment they wanted in the then work-in-progress Women's Center.
It was quite clear after seeing the equipment in use that the staff felt they owed this type of superior technology to their patients. Their decision has been a good one.
Iowa City hospitals will soon introduce the digital mammography equipment to their patients; Storm Lake is still the only facility between Lincoln, Neb. and Minneapolis, Minn. to boast it.
The results of this national study have been anticipated for some time. The largest study of its kind was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. It involved nearly 50,000 women who received mammograms at 33 sites across the U.S. and Canada over a four year period. Women taking part in the study were given exams with both digital and film. Two different radiologists interpreted each image.
The complete report on the testing will come out in the Oct. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Information was announced at a meeting of the American College of Radiology Imaging Network in Pentagon City, Va. a few weeks ago.
"There is now general agreement that screening mammography reduces the rate of breast cancer among women who are 40 years of age or older," the NEJM report begins.
The study showed that digital mammography detected up to 28 percent more cancers than standard mammograms in younger women and in women of all ages who have denser breasts. A total of 335 breast cancers were found. Both types of mammograms missed about 30 percent of them.
The digital mammograms proved that 15 percent more accurate than standard film X-rays among women under 50. In women with dense breasts and those not yet in menopause, digital mammograms were 11 percent and 15 percent better, respectively.
Mammography patients should be aware that no matter how advanced the mammography equipment is, they will still need to go through the compression at the time of testing.
"We can't get away from that," said Joan Kurtz, director of radiology at BVRMC. "There is no way to do without that."
There are so many other advantages over the equipment being used in Storm Lake. The computer aided detection (CAD) built into the equipment serves as a second pair of eyes for the doctor by performing a computer re-check of the mammogram. CAD also improves the accuracy and increases the sensitivity of mammography interpretation by identifying regions that may harbor clusters of "even the teeny, tiniest calcifications" associated with some types of breast cancer, said Linda Carlsen, mammography supervisor.
CAD can also identify breast masses and areas of distortion within the breast tissue.
"We really like our machine," said Carlsen, adding that special magnification tools on the equipment can be life-saving to those patients that receive early detection.
Theresa Beem, director of the Women's Center; Carlsen and Joan Kurtz, director of the radiology department at the hospital, all stressed the importance of having regular mammograms. "We are grateful to have this type of equipment and having it in such a lovely facility is an added plus," said Kurtz.
October is breast cancer awareness month. This year's theme is "The best protection is early detection."
The women stressed these important points:
* First mammograms should be received by the age of 35, unless there is a strong history of breast cancer in the family.
* After age 40, annual mammograms should be scheduled.
* Clinical exams by a health care giver should be scheduled annually.