Digital mammography increases breast cancer detection rates by 14%

Providers saw their cancer detection rates increase by 14 percent when they made the move from film to digital mammography, according to a large study out of the U.K. published in Radiology. Recall rates, the researchers added, did not increase. 

The authors said that their findings further the case for digital mammography as a key modality for breast cancer detection.

“Image quality with digital mammography is improved over that of screen film mammography,” radiologist and study co-author Rosalind M. Given-Wilson, MBBS, from St. Georges University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London, said in a prepared statement. “In particular, digital mammography provides the ability to visualize calcifications and see through denser tissue, and it allows the reader to adjust the image.”

Given-Wilson and colleagues examined digital mammography’s impact on cancer detection from 80 English National Health Service Breast Cancer Screening Program facilities. Specifically, the researchers were able to determine the impact of digital mammography in more than 11 million screenings of women 45 to 70 years of age.

They found the overall cancer detection rate was 14 percent greater with digital mammography. Women aged 45 to 52 saw an increase in overall detection rates by 19 percent during first screening exams.

Additionally, there were higher rates of detection of grade 1 and 2 invasive cancers, but no change in the detection of grade 3 invasive cancers.

Given-Wilson and colleagues also noted that digital mammography increased the detection of some cancers, including ductal carcinoma in situ, over other types of cancers.

The higher sensitivity of digital mammography did not increase recall rates—which leads to limited inconvenience to patients and unnecessary anxiety.

“These results confirm that digital mammography is superior to screen film mammography in finding invasive cancers and DCIS,” Given-Wilson said in the same statement. “Women are more likely to have a cancer detected with a digital mammogram.”

Moving forward, the researchers are looking at the features of grade 3 cancers on digital mammography to determine if optimizing the image for these lesions can support detection. Additionally, they are further examining the relationship between grade 3 cancer and cancers that present between screenings.