Analog or Digital Mammography Systems

Mammography is used to detect and examine changes in the breast tissue.

Analog mammography machines were the standard for many years. However, in 2000, the FDA approved the first full-field digital mammography unit, which improved image quality dramatically.

Since then, 3D mammography has further increased image quality. But that is a story for another article.

If you would like to learn more about mammography in general, you can read our complete guide.

Differences Between Analog and Digital Mammography Systems

Analog mammography uses low dose radiation that produces X-rays to detect tissue changes.

It captures the X-ray beams on film cassettes, and the outcome is a film showing the breast from different angles, which can be examined on film or translated by a CR to a digital image.

Contrary to this, digital mammography captures X-ray beams on a digital detector. This detector then converts the X-ray beams into electronic signals, which are transferred to a computer.

In the end, the computerized images are available for review on a specialized high-resolution monitor. Furthermore, the digital images can be analyzed by radiologists using the options and tools of the console/workstation.

For instance – magnifying, masking of light, inverting (negative of the image), and comparing them to previously obtained mammograms.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Analog Mammography

Analog mammography is seen less and less on the market as the new standards for breast imaging is increasingly digital and 3D mammography.

One of their few advantages is that they are cheaper than the digital systems. However, as digital is becoming more commen, their price goes down, and is now only a bit more than for the analog systems.

Maintenance cost are also generally cheaper than for digital. But you need an extra piece of equipment – a CR, if you want to convert to digital images.

Furthermore, there is a reason that digital is taking over – the image quality is better. And handling, analysing, and archiving images are much easier.

For the reasons above, unless your budget does not allow it, we do recommend digital. Read why below.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Mammography Machines

Main advantages:

  • More efficient workflow as the images are available immediately on the computer
  • A monitor in the room instantly displays the image, which allows for repositioning of patients if necessary and therefore leads to fewer retakes
  • The digital detector provides crisps images, even of larger breast
  • You can easily transfer images electronically to a central location for diagnosis (utilizing Picture Archiving and Communications System – PACS)
  • Easy analysis of images
  • Radiation doses are 30-40% lower than for analog systems
  • Earlier detection of cancer, also in those with denser breasts
  • Finally, it works very well with Computer-Aided Detection (CAD) devices

One of the disadvantages of the digital systems are that they are a bit more expensive. However, as covered above, that is a less and less relevant concern.

Sum Up

When choosing which type of mammography machine you want, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages and weigh them up against your needs. The main takeaway however, is that if you have a decent budget, you should aim for digital.

Even though analog might be slightly cheaper both in purchasing and maintenance cost, this is becoming less true every year as digital is becoming the main choice.

Furthermore, with analog you will probably need a CR as well, which is an extra piece of equipment to purchase and maintain.

If you would like to prepare yourself even better for your next mammography purchase we recommend our complete guide on how to pick a system, that will cover the most important considerations.

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