How Does the Mammography Unit Fit into a Radiologist's #MedTechToolbox?

HealthcareMarch 16, 2014

A mammography unit is an X-ray machine that is specifically used to identify possible morphology and gross pathology of the breast. The technology is not new. In fact, the first person to use X-ray technology to find cancer in the breast was Albert Salomon, who published his results in 1913. Many other doctors and scientists worked with the machine to try to perfect its ability to diagnose cancer. Although it is still not 100 percent accurate in its readings, it is a much better option compared to a biopsy or invasive surgery as a means of diagnosis.

The Search

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), radiologists look for dense areas, masses, lumps, clear spots and calcifications. Although many of these may not be cancerous or malign, there is the concern that cancer cells may hide behind a cyst or calcium deposit. If any of these are found, the doctor uses a grading scale developed by the American College of Radiology to determine the next course of action. If the mass is decidedly not cancerous, then the patient goes back to the doctor in the standard 1 to 2 year interval. If there is a possibility that the mass is a cancerous cell, the patient may have more mammograms taken at other angles, a breast MRI or ultrasound.

The Mammography Unit

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that users of this device should be licensed mammography technicians and radiologists, and, if possible, technicians should be trained by the manufacturer.

The device modifies the voltage coming in into an X-ray beam. The beam's power can be increased so it can pass through larger breasts. Although, there are still standard film versions, most newer models are equipped digitally. The digital version takes the same length of time to perform the scan, but the process for review is much quicker. The film does not have to be developed, and the pictures taken can be sent directly to a work station for immediate viewing.

Most problems that occur with photos that are taken are attributed to the technician, not necessarily the device. A tight compression is required to get an accurate reading from the mammography unit. Improper handling by a technician can cause the images to come out blurry, underexposed or overexposed. This, in turn, causes the patient to have to go through the process again, and, therefore, submit to more radiation. For these reasons, X-ray laboratories usually try to find detail-oriented professionals to operate the equipment.

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