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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?
Few studies have compared the accuracy of film versus digital mammography for screening, and none of these studies was done in community practices in the United States.
Why did the researchers do this particular study?
Most of the currently approved mammography machines in the United States use digital methods instead of film methods for detecting cancers.
Who was studied?
More than 300,000 U.S. women aged 40 to 79 years who had screening mammography with a film method, a digital method, or both methods during 2000 to 2006.
How was the study done?
The researchers looked at the results of mammography methods in women with and without breast cancer that was diagnosed during the year after mammography.
What did the researchers find?
The 2 methods had about the same accuracy for detecting breast cancer in most women.
What were the limitations of the study?
The number of women in the study was large overall, but the numbers in each age bracket and other subgroups were smaller.
What are the implications of the study?
Although the accuracy of both types of mammography was similar for most women, digital mammography was better at detecting estrogen receptor–negative tumors and cancer in extremely dense breasts. Both of these subgroups are more common in younger women, who may therefore choose digital mammography if they wish to have screening mammography.
The full report is titled “Comparative Effectiveness of Digital Versus Film-Screen Mammography in Community Practice in the United States. A Cohort Study.” It is in the 18 October 2011 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 155, pages 493-502). The authors are K. Kerlikowske, R.A. Hubbard, D.L. Miglioretti, B.M. Geller, B.C. Yankaskas, C.D. Lehman, S.H. Taplin, and E.A. Sickles, for the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium.