What is full-field digital mammography?
Full-field digital mammography (also called FFDM) is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses a digital medium instead of traditional film to capture and store images of breast tissue. As x-rays pass through the breast tissue, the x-ray waves are “digitized,” converted into electrical signals that can be picked up by highly-sensitive receptors and translated into detailed images that can be viewed on a computer monitor or printed. Digital x-rays produce highly-detailed images while using less radiation than traditional film x-rays, and they can be easily shared with medical specialists via email, making consultation much easier and faster.
Full-Field Digital Screening
When is full-field digital screening mammography used?
A screening mammography is used to look for abnormal areas of breast tissue that could indicate cancer in its earliest stages. Unlike diagnostic mammography that looks at a specific area of the breast where abnormal breast tissue has been identified, screening mammography looks at the entire breast to scan for abnormalities. The American Cancer Society recommends women have annual screening mammography exams beginning at age 40 and every year after that, as long as a woman is in good health. For women with certain risk factors for breast cancer, screening mammography may be performed before age 40.
What happens during a full-field digital screening mammography procedure?
From a patient's point of view, the procedure for digital mammography is essentially the same as the procedure for film mammography; only the amount of radiation and the storage medium are different. Before your imaging procedure, you'll need to remove your top and bra and put on a hospital gown that opens in the front. Standing in front of the mammography machine, your breast will be lifted and placed on a special platform that contains the digital sensors that capture the images made by the x-ray scanner. Once your breast is on the platform, a second platform or plate located above the breast will be positioned on directly top of your breast. This upper plate will descend slowly to squeeze or compress your breast tissue, spreading it out and making it much thinner so the x-rays will be able to penetrate better and more consistently, producing clearer images and moving aside overlapping tissue that could obscure tiny lumps or other abnormalities. The compression may be uncomfortable; if you're too uncomfortable, the technician may be able to reposition you so you feel less discomfort. Once your breast is in position between the two plates, the x-ray scanner will be used to emit a stream of x-rays through the breast tissue, creating a clear image of the interior of your breast for examination. The exam takes about a half hour to perform, and once complete, you'll be able to go back to your regular routine. If an abnormality is discovered on your mammogram, you may need diagnostic mammography or another type of breast evaluation such as an ultrasound, 3-D mammography or biopsy performed to determine if the abnormality is cancerous.
Full-Field Digital Diagnostic
When is full-field digital diagnostic mammography used?
A diagnostic FFDM is performed when a screening mammogram reveals an area of abnormal tissue, such as lumps or masses, or after a clinical breast exam finds a lump or other suspicious findings, such as dimpling or nipple discharge. Unlike screening mammography that examines the entire breast for signs of cancer, diagnostic mammography focuses on the specific area where the abnormal findings are located. Sometimes, a full-field digital mammography procedure is followed up with an ultrasound exam of breast tissue or a biopsy to obtain a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope, especially if the lump has uneven edges or appears as a starburst. In some cases, abnormal findings may be due to harmless calcifications of tissue, and no further examination is needed.
What happens during full-field digital diagnostic mammography?
Before the exam begins, you'll need to remove your top or blouse and put on a hospital gown that opens in front. As you stand in front of the x-ray scanner, your breast will be carefully positioned on a flat platform that contains the digital sensors. A second flat platform will slowly be lowered on top of your breast, compressing the breast tissue so the x-rays will be able to penetrate the tissue more consistently and produce better images. Compressing the tissue also helps ensure smaller abnormalities can be viewed more easily by preventing overlapping of breast tissue that could obscure small lumps. The compression process can be uncomfortable, especially if the exam is performed during ovulation or other periods of breast tenderness. If you find compression too painful, the technician may be able to reposition your breast to relieve some of the discomfort. Once your breast is in the correct position, the mammography machine will emit a quick stream of x-rays to take images of your breast tissue. Sometimes, more than one angle may be needed to obtain images that clearly show the area of abnormality. Once the images have been made, you'll be able to get dressed and resume your regular activities. The exam takes about 30 minutes to complete.