- »What is Mammography?
Mammography is a way to detect abnormal growths or changes in the breast tissue. To perform mammography, a health care provider takes an X-ray, or picture, of the breast tissue. This X-ray is called a mammogram.
- »What is a Digital Mammogram?
A digital mammography is a newer technology which allows for more digital manipulation of a breast X-ray exam than is possible with film mammography.
A recent study involving 42,760 women nationwide found that digital mammography was more accurate for more than half the women who undergo breast-cancer screenings. Younger women with dense breast tissue, which makes it harder to detect tumors, particularly benefited from use of the new technology, the study found. Other advantages offered by a digital mammography include the ease of storing and retrieving images and storing them as part of a patient's electronic medical record.
Both film mammography and digital mammography are available at Cleveland Clinic centers.
- »How is a Mammogram Performed?
You will be asked to stand in front of an X-ray machine for mammography. A health care provider will place your breast between two plates. The plates will be pressed together, gently flattening your breast. By flattening the breast, the health care provider can get a clear picture while using a low dose of radiation.
You may feel some discomfort or slight pain from this pressure, but it will only last for a few seconds while the X-ray is being taken. For a routine breast screening, two pictures are taken of each breast.
Your cooperation is important to get a clear picture. If you feel that the pressure on your breast is too great, tell the person performing the exam.
- »Why are Mammograms Performed?
Mammography are performed:
- As part of a regular physical exam
- To evaluate any unusual changes in the breast
Mammography can help your health care provider decide if a lump, growth, or change in your breast needs further testing. The mammogram is also used to look for lumps that are too small to be felt during a physical exam.
- »Why Should I get a Mammogram?
Mammography is your best defense against breast cancer because it can detect the disease in its early stages. Remember, most breast lumps are not cancer. In many cases, it’s normal for breasts to have lumps or feel tender. But if cancer does occur, mammography can improve your chances of a full recovery.
- »How Often Should I Have a Mammogram?
The American Cancer Society recommends:
- First mammogram by age 40
- Annual mammogram after age 40, as long as in good health
Your risk of breast cancer increases as you age, so a regular mammogram is especially important if you are over 50. If you think you need a mammogram, don’t wait for your yearly physical. Contact your health care provider right away.
- »How Should I Prepare for a Mammogram?
- If you are pregnant, or think you are pregnant, tell your health care provider.
- Do not wear body powder, creams, deodorants or lotions on your chest the day of the test.
- »What Else Can I Do to Protect Myself From Breast Cancer?
- Perform a breast self-examination each month or on a regular basis.
- Have your breasts examined by your health care provider at least once a year.
- »Where Can I Learn More about Breast Cancer and Mammography?
National Cancer Institute
The Cancer Information Service
American Cancer Society
1599 Clifton Rd., NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Susan G. Komen Foundation
3500 Gaston Ave.
Dallas, Texas 75246
- »What if They Think They See Something on My Mammogram?
Despite the fear an abnormal mammogram may evoke, most instances of abnormal mammograms are not breast cancer. Questionable abnormalities often require additional evaluation. With further examination, most of these abnormal mammograms are found to be normal breast tissue or benign (non-cancerous) tissue.
- »What is a Screening Mammogram?
Screening mammograms are recommended annually for all women starting at age 40, regardless of whether symptoms are present.
In a screening mammogram, the breast is X-rayed in two different positions: from top to bottom and from side to side. When a mammogram is viewed, breast tissue appears white and opaque, and fatty tissue appears darker and translucent.
- »A Potentially Abnormal Mammogram
Potential abnormal mammograms are found in six to eight percent of women who have screening mammograms. Abnormal mammograms require further evaluation that may include breast physical examination, diagnostic mammography, breast ultrasound or needle biopsy. Most cases of abnormal mammograms are found to be benign (i.e., no disease is present).
- »What is a Diagnostic Mammogram?
Diagnostic mammograms are done for women whose screening mammogram indicated potential abnormalities as well as for women who have signs or symptoms related to the breasts. In some women, only additional mammographic images are needed. In other women, additional mammographic images and an ultrasound are done following the abnormal mammogram.
- »How Does an Abnormality Appear on a Mammogram?
A potential abnormality on a mammogram may be called a nodule, mass, lump, density or distortion. A mass (lump) with a smooth, well-defined border is often benign. Ultrasound is needed following an abnormal mammogram to characterize the inside of a mass – if the mass contains fluid, it is called a cyst. A mass (lump) that has an irregular border or a star-burst appearance (spiculated) may be cancerous and a biopsy is usually recommended.
Microcalcifications (small deposits of calcium) are a third type of abnormal mammography. Microcalcifications can be classified as benign, suspicious or indeterminate. Depending on the appearance of the microcalcifications on the additional studies (magnification views), a biopsy may be recommended.
- »How Accurate is Mammography?
Mammography is 85 to 90 percent accurate. Mammograms have improved the ability to detect breast abnormalities before they are large enough to be felt. However, it is possible that a mass which can be felt (palpable) may not be seen on a mammogram. Any abnormality that you feel when examining your breasts should be evaluated by your health care provider. A diagnostic mammogram may be recommended.
- »Monthly Self Examination is Essential
The best opportunity for a positive outcome is early detection. Breast cancer may be curable if detected at an early stage.
Every woman should follow the American Cancer Society’s breast screening recommendations listed below.
American Cancer Society Breast Screening Guidelines
If you are between the ages of 20 and 40, you should:
- Do a breast self-exam once a month and
- Have a breast physical examination by your health care provider every three years.
If you are age 40 or older, you should:
- Do a breast self-exam once a month,
- Have a breast physical examination by your health care provider once a year, and
- Have a mammogram once a year.