Mammography is the process of using low-energy-X-rays to examine breast and is used as a diagnostic and a screening tool. Mammography is used to aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases. Research has shown that annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers, when they are most curable and breast-conservation therapies are available.

Digital mammography is a mammography system in which the x-ray film is replaced by detectors that convert x-rays into electrical signals. These detectors are similar to those found in digital cameras. The electrical signals are used to produce images of the breast that can be seen on a computer screen or printed on special film.

Computer-aided detection (CAD) is a computer-based process designed to analyze mammographic images for suspicious areas that may indicate the presence of cancer. The CAD system highlights these areas on the images, alerting the radiologist to the need for further analysis.

What are some common uses of the procedure?
  1. Breast screening to detect early breast cancer.
  • The American Cancer Society recommends screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40. Research has shown that 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 genetic history of breast cancer should seek expert medical advice about whether they should begin screening before age 40 and about the frequency of screening.
  1. To diagnose breast disease in women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge.
  1. Imaging of the breast improves a physician's ability to detect small tumors. When cancers are small, the woman has more treatment options and a cure is more likely.
  2. No radiation remains in a patient's body after an x-ray examination.
  3. X-rays usually have no side effects in the diagnostic range.
You will feel pressure on your breast as it is squeezed by the compression paddle. Some women with sensitive breasts may experience discomfort. If this is the case, schedule the procedure when your breasts are least tender. Be sure to inform the technologist if pain occurs as compression is increased. If discomfort is significant, less compression will be used.
Breast compression is necessary in order to:
  1. Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized.
  2. Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities are less likely to be obscured by overlying breast tissue.
  3. Allow the use of a lower x-ray dose since a thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged.
  4. Hold the breast still in order to minimize blurring of the image caused by motion.
  5. Reduce x-ray scatter to increase sharpness of picture.
  1. There is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
  2. False positive mammograms. 5 percent to 15 percent of screening mammograms require more testing such as additional mammograms or ultrasound. Most of these tests turn out to be normal. If there is an abnormal finding, a follow-up or biopsy may have to be performed. Most of the biopsies confirm that no cancer was present.
  3. Women should always inform their physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
  4. Breast implants hides some of the breast tissue, so more pictures than a regular mammogram, with and without displaced implant is required, and ruptured could occurred with older or weakened implants. However, the risk of rupture is very small and the risk of breast cancer is far greater.
  5. The interpretation of mammograms can be difficult for woman younger than 40 or hormone user because of dense breast tissue.
  6. The breast tissue of woman younger than 40 is more sensitive to radiation; even mammograms use low-dose x-ray.
  1. 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; ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for example.
  2. Interpretation of mammograms can be difficult because a normal breast can appear differently for each woman. Also, the appearance of an image may be compromised if you have undergone breast surgery.
  3. Because some breast cancers are hard to visualize, a radiologist may want to compare the image to views from previous examinations.
  4. Cancer can be seen on mammograms about 80-90% accuracy. In other words, not all breast cancers can be seen on mammography.
  5. Breast implants can also impede accurate mammogram readings by obscured parts of breast tissue.
  6. While mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer available today, mammograms do not detect all breast cancers. Also, a small portion of mammograms indicate that a cancer could possibly be present when it is not (called a false-positive result).
There is no limitation either before or after the procedure.

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