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Barbara Dehn: Digital Mammography

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I just had my first mammogram using digital technology! What an incredible breakthrough. No more films to carry, no more little bandaid like stickies to mark areas of concern. And, there was a nifty top panel that didn't make me feel as if I was an orange being put through the squeezer. Ouch, they tell you to hold your breath, but the pain can be so intense that you can't help but gasp.

It takes less time, because you don't have to worry about developing the film and the images can be sent via computer to radiologists to view remotely. I was thinking about how beneficial this would be for women in outlying and remote areas.

It's a little scary

My mom is a survivor of breast cancer. She was 33 at diagnosis, had a radical mastectomy and is still around, as ornery as ever. Going to get mammograms is a routine for me, but still, there's always that lingering worry that maybe this time, they'll find something.

Last year I had a breast lump removed, which thankfully, was not cancerous. Whew. I have friends who are battling breast cancer right now, and too many who have died from it.

A new technology

Digital mammography is replacing the old film based systems from the past.

Recent studies found that digital mammography was more effective at detecting breast cancer in women under 50, women with dense breasts and women who are not quite menopausal.

Close to 20% of mammography centers are using digital mammography, so ask when you make your appointment, and if they aren't using it yet, ask when you can expect it to be available.

Remember not to use deodorant or powder before you go, as that can interfere with the results.

Follow up studies

If there's any concern with any mammogram, many times a spot compression view or magnification views will be recommended. These are just ways to look more closely and carefully at the breast tissue.

Often, if a lump can be felt or there's pain, an ultrasound is recommended. Ultrasounds are particularly good at detecting fluid filled cysts.

I'd like to hear more about your experiences with mammograms, ultrasounds and even breast MRI. Check back in a few days, when we'll talk about testing for Ovarian Cancer.

Be well

Barb Dehn is a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience. She lectures at Stanford, is an in-demand national speaker and appears regularly on ABC's View from the Bay in San Francisco. Barb has dedicated herself to Empowering Women with Information that's practical, funny and to the point.

Visit NurseBarb at her website:

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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