A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breasts, used to detect and diagnose breast diseases. Mammography is considered the most effective tool for early breast tumor detection. Most medical experts agree that successful treatment of breast cancer often is linked to early diagnosis. Mammography plays a central part in the early detection of breast cancer because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.
Mammography is a very safe procedure that uses low doses of radiation to produce high quality X-ray images of the breast. Screening mammography is used as a preventive measure for women who have no symptoms of breast disease.
A screening mammogram usually involves two views of each breast. Diagnostic mammography involves additional views of the breast and is used when an abnormality is found during screening, or in women who have breast complaints, such as a breast mass, nipple discharge, breast pain, or skin irritation.
Medical Arts Radiology features digital mammography, which uses computers and specially-designed digital detectors to produce an image that can be displayed on a high-resolution computer monitor and transmitted and stored just like computer files.
Unlike film-based mammography, digital mammograms produce images that appear on the technologist’s monitor in a matter of seconds. There is no waiting for film to develop, which can mean a shorter time spent in the breast imaging suite.
3D MAMMOGRAMS (Breast Tomosynthesis)
Medical Arts Radiology also offers breast tomosynthesis to create 3D images of the breast. 3D mammography using tomosynthesis is an advanced technology that can help find cancers earlier or find cancers that may be missed with 2D mammography. 3D mammograms offer increased diagnostic accuracy, reducing false-positive results that 2D mammograms can sometimes produce.
With digital mammography, the radiologist reviews electronic images of the breast, using special high-resolution monitors. The physician can adjust the brightness, change contrast, and zoom in for close ups of specific areas of interest. Being able to manipulate images is one of the main benefits of digital technology.
Another convenience of digital mammography over film-based systems is that it can greatly reduce the need for retakes due to over- or under-exposure. This potentially saves additional time and reduces your exposure to X-rays.
Because they are electronic, digital mammography images can be transmitted quickly across a network. Digital images can also be easily stored, copied without any loss of information, and transmitted and received in a more streamlined manner, eliminating dependence on only one set of “original” films.
Compared with standard film-based mammograms, digital mammograms are more accurate, especially in younger women with dense breast tissue, women under 50 years old, and those who are premenopausal.
Digital mammography has introduced another tool in helping the radiologist detect breast cancer – CAD, or computer-aided detection. CAD systems use computer software to analyze mammograms. They highlight regions of interest, drawing the radiologist’s attention to areas that require additional review.
CAD technology basically works like a second pair of eyes, equivalent to having the mammogram double-read by another radiologist. Studies have shown that CAD further improves the detection of breast cancer on screening mammograms.
Current guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that 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.
Before scheduling a mammogram, you should discuss problems in your breasts with your doctor. In addition, inform your doctor of hormone use, any prior surgeries, and family or personal history of breast cancer.
Generally, the best time is one week following your period. Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. Always inform your X-ray technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
On the day of the exam:
• Do not wear lotion, deodorant, or powder under your arms or on your breasts.
• Describe any problems you’re experiencing with your breasts with your technologist.
• Remove all jewelry and clothing from the waist up. You will be given a gown that opens in the front.
To image your breast, an X-ray technician will position you near the machine and your breast will be placed on a platform and compressed with a paddle. Breast compression is necessary in order to:
• Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized
• Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities won't be obscured
• Allow use of a lower x-ray dose
• Hold the breast still to eliminate blurring of the image caused by motion
• Reduce X-ray scatter to increase picture sharpness
The technologist will go behind a glass shield while making the X-ray exposure. You will be asked to change positions slightly between views. The process is repeated for the other breast. Routine views are a top-to-bottom and side view
The exam takes about a half an hour. The technologist will apply compression on your breast and, as a result, you will feel pressure on the breast as it is squeezed by the compressor. Some women with sensitive breasts may experience some minor discomfort. Be sure to inform the technologist if pain occurs as compression is increased. If discomfort is significant, less compression will be used.