A mammogram is a special x-ray of the breast. Though it cannot actually diagnose breast cancer, it can suggest that cancer may or may not be present.
There are two different types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic.
Screening mammograms look for breast cancer in women with no signs or symptoms of the disease. They can help identify tumors before they are large enough to be felt. Typically, two x-ray pictures of each breast are taken, providing different views. The breast is placed between two plates on the x-ray machine. The plates are pressed together to flatten and spread the breast tissue in order the get a clear picture. This may be temporarily uncomfortable, but should not be painful, and only takes a few seconds.
The images are read then by a radiologist looking for several types of changes, including a mass or calcifications. A mass may be many things, including a benign, fluid-filled cyst or a solid tumor that needs to be biopsied. Calcifications are tiny mineral deposits within breast tissue. Depending on their size, shape and layout, they may or may not indicate the presence of cancer.
Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for cancer after a lump, thickening or other change is found in the breast.
A diagnostic mammogram may also be used to evaluate potential abnormalities detected during a screening mammogram or because of special circumstances, such as the presence of breast implants that make it difficult to get clear pictures any other way.
Diagnostic mammograms take longer than screening mammograms since more views of the breast are taken. The technician may want to magnify a suspicious area to help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
Modern mammogram equipment designed for breast x-rays uses very low levels of radiation.
Early detection of breast cancer is important to a better outcome. While many studies suggest that mammograms help save lives, some research has questioned whether regular mammograms do in fact decrease the rate of cancer deaths. This has led many professional, medical and cancer organizations to have different mammography guidelines.
The majority agree that:
- Beginning at age 40, women with an average risk of breast cancer should have a mammogram every 1-2 years.
Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer should seek expert medical advice about:
- Whether they should begin screening before age 40
- How frequently they should be screened
The Breast Care Center at Regional Medical Center of San Jose has invested in the most accurate equipment available for mammography, breast ultrasound exams and stereotactic biopsy. Our staff has extensive experience in diagnostic imaging technology. For more information about The Breast Care Center, call (888) 762-8881.