What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is a safe, low dose
x-ray of the breast that produces pictures of the
inside of the breast.
Who should get a mammogram?
The American Cancer Society
recommends that all women over the age of 40 have
a mammogram yearly to see if there are changes
they cannot yet detect in their breast. This is
called a “screening mammogram”. Some
physicians obtain a baseline between 35-40, or
may do a mammogram sooner if there is a family
history of breast cancer in a first degree relative
such as a mother or sister at a young age. A “diagnostic
mammogram” is ordered when a woman has a
complaint such as a breast lump or other symptoms,
or if a woman has breast implants.
What is the difference
between a regular mammogram and a digital mammogram?
A standard mammogram is an x-ray
of the breast in which the images are projected
onto film and stored and read by the radiologist
in that form. Digital mammography produces an
x-ray image on a computer. The radiologist when
reading the exam can refine the contrast of the
image so that some lesions can be seen more clearly.
Studies are still in progress as to whether one
method is better than the other. Digital mammography
is easier to store than film screen mammography,
and allows other physicians to be able to view
the images from their offices. Not all centers
have digital mammography due to the cost of the
How is a mammogram done?
During the mammogram a specially
trained radiology technologist will position your
breast in the mammography machine. The breast
is compressed (squeezed) in two different positions
– from top to bottom, and from side to side.
Typically several pictures are taken of each breast.
The compression helps hold the breast in place
for a better picture and decreases the thickness
of the breast, allowing the x-ray to penetrate
the breast more easily, reducing the dose needed
for the picture.
Do I need to do anything
to prepare for the mammogram?
If you have not had your mammograms
done previously at the facility for which your
appointment is scheduled, please obtain the prior
films and bring them or have them sent before
the day of your visit. It is important to compare
previous films to the new films so the radiologist
can identify any subtle changes that may have
occurred. Do not wear powder, lotion, or deodorant
on the day of your exam.
Is a mammogram painful?
Some women find the pressure
of the compression uncomfortable, but it should
not be painful and lasts only a few seconds for
each picture. If you find it uncomfortable, talk
to the technologist. She will make every effort
to make you as comfortable as possible and answer
any questions you may have. Try to schedule your
mammogram after your menstrual cycle when your
breasts are least sensitive. Some women who have
sensitive breasts find it helpful to decrease
their caffeine intake several days prior to having
a mammogram taken.
How long does a mammogram
A screening mammogram takes
only about 15 minutes. This usually includes the
time it takes the technologist to review the films
to make sure they are good quality. Sometimes
it may be necessary to repeat some pictures. A
diagnostic mammogram usually requires more time
since there is an area of concern or focus, and
usually requires more specialized pictures.
Who will read my mammogram?
Your mammograms will be read
by dedicated breast radiologists. In addition,
our radiologists are using a computer assisted
detection device (CAD) to second read all mammograms.
CAD technology scans the mammograms for abnormalities
and may improve the early detection of breast
When will I receive my
Routine screening mammogram
results will be sent to the physician that ordered
the exam. Usually the radiologist does not discuss
the results at the time of your visit, but you
will receive a letter within one week. A diagnostic
mammogram requires a radiologist to be present
at the time of the examination and the results
are usually discussed before you leave.
What are microcalcifications?
Sometimes a mammogram will show
calcium deposits in the breast. Microcalcifications
are benign (no cancer) in about 80% of cases.
The radiologist is specially trained to identify
benign calcifications by looking at their size,
shape and configuration. Microcalcifications can
be caused by fibrocystic changes in the breast,
aging, previous biopsies, and sometimes injury.
However, in some cases microcalcifications may
indicate that a cancer or pre-cancer is present.
These microcalcifications have a specific shape
and arrangement that causes the radiologist to
recommend additional testing or follow-up.