Mammography is a specialized medical imaging tool that uses a low-dose x-ray system to see inside the breasts. It aids in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women. It is used as a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms. They can also be used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain, skin dimpling or nipple discharge. It is the preferred screening examination for breast cancer as it is widely available, well-tolerated and inexpensive.
Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Current guidelines by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, the American College of Surgeons and the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40. Annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers, when they are most curable and breast-conservation therapies are available. Women who have had breast cancer, and those who are at increased risk due to a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, should seek expert medical advice about whether they should begin screening before age 40 and the need for other types of screening.
Diagnostic mammography is used to evaluate a patient with abnormal clinical findings—such as a breast lump or nipple discharge—that have been found by the woman during self-examination or her doctor. Diagnostic mammography uses specialized views to determine exact size and location of breast abnormalities and to image the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. Typically, several additional views of the breast are acquired and interpreted during diagnostic mammography.
When should I schedule a mammogram?
• Consult your doctor.
• Discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with the doctor.
• Inform your doctor about any prior surgeries or hormone use or personal history of breast cancer.
• Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your menstrual 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 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 calcium spots.
• Take your prior mammograms and make them available to the radiologist if they were done at a different location to compare with your current examination.
• If you have a breast implant (silicone/saline) you should ask if the facility uses special techniques designed to accomodate them. Experienced technologists and radiologists know how to carefully compress the breasts to improve the view without rupturing the implant.