What is Mammography?
Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system for examination of the breast. Early detection is the key to successful cancer treatment and traditional Mammograms have given women an opportunity to detect cancer cells, often prior to noticing a palpable lump. Current guidelines from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40.
What is Digital Mammography?
Traditional Mammograms – are analog hard copy films, which are rarely used these days. These films have some diagnostic limitations. Digital Mammography doesn’t use film—it uses the computer. The process remains the same in that your breasts are still compressed between two plates and a lower dose x-ray is then taken. With Digital Mammography, the images are available within 10 seconds on the radiologist’s computer screen. There are no films to be developed. The resolution and quality of the images are a lot better. In addition, the radiologist can manipulate the computer image by enlarging it or adjusting the contrast, until they have the clearest image possible. The benefit of this computer based system is we now have the ability to optimize our parameters of visualizing abnormalities.
Screening Mammography is used as a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no problems or symptoms. It is done once a year.
Diagnostic Mammography is used to evaluate a patient with abnormal clinical findings, such as a palpable breast lump, nipple discharge, pain, etc., that have been found by the woman or her doctor. Diagnostic mammography may also be done after an abnormal screening mammography in order to evaluate the area of concern on the screening exam.
Before scheduling a mammogram, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that you discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor. In addition, inform your doctor of any prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer.
Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. The best time for a mammogram is one week following your period. Always inform your doctor or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
- DO NOT wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam. These can appear on the mammogram as abnormalities.
- DO Describe any breast symptoms or problems on the intake questionnaire AND to the technologist performing the exam.
- DO obtain prior mammograms and make them available to the radiologist at the time of the current exam.
- DO Ask when your results will be available; do not assume the results are normal if you do not hear from your doctor or the mammography facility.
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care physician or the physician who referred you for the exam, who will share the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss results with you at the conclusion of your examination. You should also receive written results in mail from the radiology clinic.
While mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer detection available today, mammograms do not detect all breast cancers. Also, small portions of mammograms indicate that a cancer could possibly be present when it is not (called a false-positive result). Initial mammographic images themselves are not usually enough to determine the existence of a benign or malignant disease with certainty. If a finding or spot seems suspicious, your radiologist may recommend further diagnostic studies like breast ultrasound.
Because some breast cancers are hard to visualize, a radiologist may want to compare the image to views from previous examinations. Not all cancers of the breast can be seen on mammography. That is why it is VERY IMPORTANT to provide your prior mammograms.
Breast implants can also impede accurate mammogram readings because silicone implants are not transparent on x-rays and can block a clear view of the tissues behind them, especially if the implant has been placed in front of, rather than beneath, the chest muscles. Our technologists are experienced in performing mammography on patients with breast implants and know how to carefully compress the breasts to improve the view without rupturing the implant.