For patients with breast lumps or those simply needing a routine examination, digital mammography allows an accurate reading of dense breast tissue. Breast Center specialists can determine, via mammography, if a lump, growth, or change in your breast needs further testing. Digital mammography can also look for lumps that are too small to be discovered during a physical exam. Below are answers to common questions by patients seeking mammography.
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 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's Breast Center.
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.
- For information on how you can look for changes in your breasts, please refer to the Breast Self-Exam.
Where Can I Learn More about Breast Cancer and Mammography?
National Cancer Institute
The Cancer Information Service
1.800.422.6237 (1.800.4.CANCER) (1.800.422.6237)
American Cancer Society
1599 Clifton Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Susan G. Komen Foundation
3500 Gaston Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75246