How latest technology is aiding early breast screening

January 2015

Much of the everyday technology we encounter is related to gadgets and you are sometimes left wondering how much of it is really necessary. While your latest smartphone camera may zoom in and out, enhance and increase clarity of your family snaps, similar healthcare applications of this technology can be life-saving.

Gone are the days of grainy diagnostic images, the latest technology in mammography screening offers experts all the clarity they need to help you.

Mammography is a diagnostic and screening tool using low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast. Breast imaging, just like the cameras we use on a daily basis, has improved in technological terms and for many women this will be crucially important as the advances may lead to the early detection of breast cancer.

Vicki Tinkler, radiology manager and mammographer at Spire Norwich Hospitals discusses the benefits of digital mammography:

“For the patient, as there is no film to be developed, digital imaging provides an immediate picture and allows the mammographer to evaluate the quality of the image as its being taken. This means the patient will spend less time in the examination room and also reduce the chance of having to have a repeat mammogram due to either an over or under exposed film.

"The procedure and appearance of the machine and even the images produced are very similar to a traditional film mammogram—the advantage really comes from the ability to manipulate the image electronically. Brightness, darkness, or contrast can be adjusted and sections of an image can be magnified after the mammogram is complete, making it easier to see subtle differences between tissues.

“Digital images are easily stored and retrieved and are also easily transferred between doctors, thus enhancing the speed at which a patient can receive the care they need, which as we know, for some will be life-saving care. Repeated studies have shown that the number of deaths from breast cancer in the age group 50-64 are reduced by 40 per cent in those who attend for breast screening.”

Cancer Research UK advises us of the following statistics:

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK
  • The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is one in eight for women in the UK
  • Around eight in 10 breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over

Vicki continues: "During a mammogram, a radiographer specialised in mammography will position the patient’s breast in the mammography unit. The breast will be placed on a special platform and compressed with the patient being asked to change positions between images. The routine views are a top-to-bottom view and an angled side view. The process will be repeated for the other breast.

"This will sound familiar to anyone who has had a mammogram in the past - nothing has changed in the procedure, other than the vast improvements in technology which has aided our ability to view and detect abnormities much quicker than previously.

"Recently the NHS has extended their breast screening service to women aged between 47 and 73, and women falling into this age bracket, regardless of previous medical history, will be invited to take part in a breast screening programme.

"At Spire Norwich Hospital our mammographers are able screen patients from the age of 40 and use the latest breast imaging equipment newly installed in 2014. Private appointments are available on a daily basis and people don’t need to have medical insurance to attend the hospital.

"After the radiologist has reported their findings, we are usually able to discuss these with the patient either on the day, or within a few days. A detailed report will always be sent to their GP within five days as well. Not all abnormalities on a mammogram are due to cancer but in some cases, additional tests may be required. This may involve investigations such as additional mammograms, ultrasound, and a clinical examination by a specialist consultant. However it’s important to stress that most women who need further investigations will not be found to have cancer.”

Women are advised to check their breasts frequently and if they notice any changes they should see their GP, particularly if they find:

  • a lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast
  • a lump or swelling in either armpit
  • a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
  • discharge from either nipples (which may be streaked with blood)
  • any dimpling of the skin around the breast
  • a rash on or around the nipple

Vicki concludes: “Breast screening is a vital service to women in the UK and although many women come away with no detected abnormalities, for those with suspected cancer, the factor of early screening may play a key part in their long term prognosis.”

A GP or consultant referral letter will be required for women wishing to attend the private breast screening clinic at Spire Norwich Hospital.

For further information on breast screening, please call Spire Norwich Hospital on 01603 255614.

The content of this page is provided for general information only. It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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