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Screening for breast cancer using digital mammography had “significantly higher” accuracy than film-based mammography in women under 50 and menopausal women, according to a new, large study.

The study of almost 43,000 women in the US and Canada found cancers were better detected using digital breast cancer screening in younger women, including those with dense breasts or those reaching menopause. The results released on Friday from the two-year study comparing digital and film mammograms are to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Such findings are a boost in the push to new diagnostic technologies such as digital mammography machines, and all new digital medical imaging machines. The digital mammography market is dominated by US conglomerate General Electric, Fischer Imaging, European manufacturers Siemens and Philips, as well as burgeoning businesses at Canon and Eastman Kodak.

Overall, science supports the premise that starting mammography screening women at the age of 40 significantly reduces the incidence of breast cancer deaths. Digital mammography could help improve this, according to the study, particularly in the detection of harder-to-find cancers in younger women.

Nevertheless, new imaging technologies are part of the debate over soaring healthcare costs, due both to their price-tags and their operational expense.

Companies and other advocates counter that better technology can help save healthcare costs in the long term through better disease detection and then prevention.

Authors of the study, the Digital Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial, acknowledged that the cost – up to four times higher more expensive more than film systems – and relative benefit of the digital machines needed further review.

“One of the major impediments to the adoption of digital mammography will be its cost…As part of DMIST, we are performing a formal cost-effectiveness analysis and study of the quality of life of asymptomatic women,” the study said.

This is likely to take into account the fact that the study found no difference between digital and film mammography over the entire population - including older women whose breasts can be easier to read.

For women under 50, digital results were 22 per cent better on a cancer sensitivity scale: women with dense breasts saw a 16 per cent improvement, and menopausal women 22 per cent.

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