Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to examine breasts. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, is used to aid in the diagnosis of breast diseases in women.
Mammograms are used as a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms and to detect and diagnose breast disease in women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge.
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 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. Research has shown that annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers, when they are most curable and breast-conservation therapies are available.
For more information on the recent controversy regarding screening mammography, please click here.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) adds that women 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. The American Cancer Society now recommends that patients at very high risk consider additional screening with dedicated breast MRI.
Diagnostic mammography is used to evaluate a patient with abnormal clinical findings—such as a breast lump or discharge, that have been found by the patient or her doctor. Diagnostic mammography may also be done after an abnormal screening mammogram in order to determine the cause of the area of concern on the screening exam.
Two recent enhancements to traditional mammography include digital mammography and computer-aided detection.
Digital mammography, also called full-field digital mammography (FFDM), is a mammography system in which the x-ray film is replaced by solid-state 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 similar to conventional mammograms. Digital mammography still utilizes brief compression of the breast to obtain clear images. Digital images provide a better view of the breast, especially near the skin line and chest wall. The technology has been shown to be accurate in women with all breast tissue types, but is particulary helpful in patients with dense breast tissue.
From the patient's point of view, digital mammography is essentially the same as the screen-film system with the following advantages:
- Reduced exam times
- Reduced callbacks because image can be manipulated to enhance areas of over-exposure
- Better tissue visibility at skin line & chest wall than film
- Lower radiation dose in dense breast tissue than film
Computer-aided detection (CAD) systems use a digitized mammographic image that can be obtained from either a conventional film mammogram or a digitally acquired mammogram. The computer software then searches for abnormal areas of density, mass, or calcification 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.
Is Digital mammography better than regular (Analog) mammography?
The New England Journal of Medicine published an article in September 2005 where over 49,000 patients were studied to contrast Digital vs. Analog Mammography and found that Digital mammography was more accurate in women under the age of 50, women with radiographically dense breasts, and premenopausal or perimenopausal women. The Digital technology was equivalent to Analog mammography for the patients with fatty breasts. For this reason, digital mammography is now offered at all of the Baptist M & S Imaging locations.
Baptist M&S Imaging is dedicated to providing the latest in imaging technology for you and your patients.
Preparing for Your Visit
Before scheduling a mammogram, we recommend that you discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor. In addition, inform your doctor of any prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer.
Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your 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 or mammogram technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
We also recommend that you:
- 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.
- Describe any breast symptoms or problems to the technologist performing the exam.
- If possible, obtain prior mammograms and make them available to the radiologist at the time of the current exam.
- Ask when your results will be available; do not assume the results are normal if you do not hear from your doctor or our facility.