Digital mammography systems, which were first approved for marketing in the United States in 2000, cost at least three times as much as film systems, according to ECRI, the nonprofit health services research agency that conducted the report.
But the technology does offer some advantages over X-ray film: The images are stored directly in a computer system, which allows them to be digitally enhanced, magnified or distributed. Hassles of storing, processing and handling film are eliminated. In some cases, digital mammography requires slightly lower doses of radiation.
"Cost-effectiveness will ultimately determine whether full-field digital mammography technology is adopted, since hospitals must justify their purchase based on exam volume and patient population," the report concluded.
The assessment is not the last word. The National Cancer Institute sponsored another new clinical study, enrolling 49,500 women in the United States and Canada. Each patient received both traditional and digital mammograms, with follow-up exams after one year.