What is a mammogram?

Mammography, a technique that uses a low dose of X-rays to image the breast, is an important tool in detecting breast disease. It is the only radiology exam that can reliably detect microcalcifications, which can indicate the very earliest form of a breast cancer. During the mammogram, X-rays created by the mammogram unit pass through the breast to a "detector" that, in combination with a computer, creates an image of the internal structure of the breast. These images are then interpreted by a radiologist.

A screening mammogram is an imaging test performed annually in women who have no obvious breast problems. If you are 40 years of age or older and do not have any breast problems that require immediate evaluation, we strongly encourage you to get a mammogram annually. A mammogram shows changes in the breast up to two years before these changes can be felt by a woman or her doctor. In addition, you should perform a monthly breast self-exam, which will enable you to identify palpable breast changes, and see your healthcare provider annually for a clinical breast exam. These simple steps are key to early detection and are linked to a dramatic increase in survival rates.

A mammogram performed to evaluate a breast problem such as a lump, thickening, swelling, pain, nipple discharge, retraction or bulging of the skin is a diagnostic mammogram. In this type of mammogram, we obtain additional views focusing on the abnormal area including compression or magnification views, both types of close-up pictures of the abnormal area.

All of our breast imaging is done with digital mammography, which is similar to traditional mammography, but the digital mammography system sends the X-ray images to a computer, which immediately converts them to digital images that we can view on the computer screen. Digital mammography enables us to adjust the magnification of an area, and the brightness and/or contrast of the image, so that we can see any abnormal areas more clearly, enhancing our ability to detect breast cancer.

We also use CAD, a sophisticated software program that scans mammography images before they are reviewed by our radiologists and marks potential areas of concern on the image. Studies have shown that this extra step increases radiologists’ accuracy when reading mammograms. We offer this state-of-the-art technology as part of the routine screening and diagnostic services.

What is 3D mammography?

3D mammography is a three-dimensional imaging technology that uses a low-dose short X-ray sweep around the compressed breast. 3D mammography is supplemental to conventional 2D mammographic images, which are also obtained as part of the 3D mammogram. This imaging technique is designed to see the breast structures with greater definition and detail similar to a CT scan.

A patient's experience is exactly the same for both 2D and 3D mammography.

How do I get ready for the test?

Your breasts will be compressed during the mammogram. If you have had a mammogram that was very uncomfortable, ask your physician whether you can take ibuprofen in the days prior to the exam.

On the day of your mammogram, do not wear any deodorant, body powder, or perfume, as these may contain tiny particles that can appear as small spots or shadows— areas of concern—on your mammogram.

Since you will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a gown, consider wearing a comfortable skirt or pants.

What will happen during the test?

You will stand during this test, facing the mammography machine. A mammography technologist will position your breast carefully between two rectangular plates. These plates compress the breast between them to flatten and spread the tissue to get the best quality exam. Once the breast is positioned correctly and compressed the technologist will take two X-rays, one from the side and one from the top of the breast. The technologist will instruct you to hold your breath and remain still for a few seconds. Motion, even breathing, can blur the image and make it necessary to repeat the picture. The pressure lasts only a few seconds while the image is taken, and you may be slightly uncomfortable. The technologist will repeat the procedure to image both breasts.

Are there any risks?

Mammography uses X-rays to image the breast, but the radiation dose is very small, and the benefits of mammography in detecting breast cancer at an early stage outweigh the risks of radiation exposure.

After the test

After the exam you can immediately resume your normal activities. A radiologist will analyze the mammogram. If your mammography findings are negative, indicating no abnormalities, we will send you and your doctor a letter in the mail reporting your screening outcome. If your mammography findings are positive, indicating an abnormality, we will contact you immediately. We will send you and your doctor a letter in the mail reporting your screening outcome, and will contact you by phone and refer you to our diagnostic center for additional testing.