Digital Mammograms Aren’T More Accurate


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please tell me if a digital mammogram is a great deal better than a regular mammogram. If I need to pay part of the cost, I don’t mind, if it’s worth it. I don’t want to pay for something that is simply “newer.” — S.P.

ANSWER: With a conventional mammogram, the image of the breast is captured on film, like a photographic image. With a digital mammogram, the image is captured electronically on bits of computer code, like a digital camera does. The techniques for taking a digital mammogram are the same as those for a conventional one. Digital mammograms are easier to store, and digital images are available immediately but are more costly.

A large study of almost 50,000 women concluded that the accuracy between digital and conventional mammograms is not significantly different. However, in women younger than 50 and in women with dense breasts, digital mammograms provide better pictures. Unless your doctor has directed you to get digital mammograms, you can rely on standard mammograms to serve you well.

The booklet on breast cancer provides information on its detection and treatment. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 1101W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For many years, I have put up with floaters. I am quite nearsighted, and my eye doctor says they’re common in nearsighted people. Last week, I saw flashes of light. I called the doctor, and he saw me that day. He told me I had a vitreous detachment. Is this serious? — L.P.

ANSWER: The vitreous is a thick, gel-like material that fills the back two-thirds of the eye. It provides support for the eye. The vitreous abuts on the retina, the sensitive layer of cells that transfers incoming images to the brain. A vitreous detachment means it has pulled away from the retina. In doing so, it stimulated the retina to cause the flashing lights you saw.

The doctor made sure your retina was OK. Flashes of light also can be a signal that the retina is tearing. For the present, nothing else needs to be done. The doctor will examine you again in a few months to be positive the retina is remaining in good health.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Ten months ago I had my gallbladder removed. My problem is I must still take a Lactaid pill when I eat some foods, especially dairy. Why? — D.B.

ANSWER: Your gallbladder stores bile made in the liver. When people eat a fatty meal, their gallbladders contract to squirt bile into the digestive tract to aid in the digestion of fats. If the gallbladder has stones, that contraction causes abdominal pain. You should not have that pain now. A different problem centers on lactase, an enzyme that digests milk sugar lactose. As people grow older, many lose their lactase enzymes. Drinking or eating dairy products causes them diarrhea and abdominal pain. You still need your Lactaid pill to digest dairy products. This has nothing to do with the gallbladder.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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