Screening Mammogram

A screening mammogram is generally what most people refer to as a mammogram. It is a specific type of test that uses low-dose X-rays to create images of the breasts. This exam can aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases.

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Answers to Your Screening Mammogram Questions

A screening mammogram is generally what most people refer to as a mammogram. This type of mammogram should be performed annually for women over the age of 40 who have no current breast problems. This type of mammogram involves two X-ray pictures of each breast. These X-ray images make it possible to detect tumors that can’t be felt. Screening mammograms can also find microcalcifications, which are tiny deposits of calcium that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

Mammograms are used as a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women who are experiencing no symptoms. It can also be used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge.

During your mammogram, a radiologic technologist will position your breast in the mammography unit. Your breast will be placed on a platform and compressed with a plastic paddle.

Breast compression is necessary in order to:

  • Even out the breast thickness so all tissues can be seen.

  • Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities are less likely to be obscured by overlying breast tissue.

  • Allow the use of lower X-ray dose, since a thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged.

  • Hold the breast still in order to minimize blurring of the image caused by motion.

  • Reduce X-ray scatter to increase sharpness of the picture.

You will be asked to change positions between images, and the process will be repeated for the other breast. You must hold very still while the X-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image.

The examination process takes about 30 minutes.

On the day of your mammogram:

  • Wear a two-piece outfit so you can stay in your regular clothes from the waist down.

  • Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts, because these can appear on the mammogram as spots.

  • Temporarily avoid caffeine and take a pain reliever, like ibuprofen, prior to your appointment to decrease discomfort.

  • Describe any breast symptoms or problems to the technologist performing the exam.

Board-certified radiologists who specialize in breast imaging will interpret your mammography results. You can expect your results to come in the mail up to three weeks after your exam. You will receive a phone call if additional imaging is required to evaluate a possible abnormality. A report will also be sent to your referring doctor.

Don’t be alarmed if you are asked to come back for additional imaging. Being called back for more testing does not mean that you have cancer. In fact, fewer than 1% of women who are called back for additional tests are found to have breast cancer. Getting called back occurs fairly often and usually just means an additional image or ultrasound needs to be performed to look at an area more clearly.

Initial mammography images alone are not usually enough to tell whether there is a benign or malignant disease. If a spot seems suspicious, your radiologist may recommend further diagnostic exams.

Breast implants can hinder accurate mammogram readings because both silicone and saline implants are not transparent on X-rays and can block a clear view of the tissues behind them. This is especially true if the implant has been placed in front of, rather than beneath, the chest muscles. Experienced technologists and radiologists know how to carefully compress the breasts to improve the view without rupturing the implant.

While mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer available today, mammograms do not detect all breast cancers.

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