Alternate Names : Mammogram
A mammogram is a type of X-ray for the breasts. A screening mammogram usually involves two X-rays of each breast. A diagnostic mammogram involves more X-rays.
Who is a candidate for the test?
A screening mammogram is generally used to detect breast cancer or other changes in the breast tissue in women who do not have symptoms.
A diagnostic mammogram may be ordered when a screening mammogram shows something abnormal in the breast. It may also be ordered if the woman has symptoms, such as the following:
a discharge from the nipple other than breast milk
a lump or swelling in the breast or underarm area
redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
retraction, or turning inward, of the nipple
skin irritation or dimpling
Breast cancer screening with mammograms has reduced deaths from breast cancer in women 40 to 69 years of age.
How is the test performed?
For a screening mammography, the woman undresses to the waist and puts on a gown that opens from the front. The technologist places one breast on an X-ray film cassette, which resembles a metal shelf. The woman rests her breast on the film cassette. Usually the woman stands during this procedure.
A plastic paddle briefly squeezes the breast from above to flatten it out. This allows a clearer X-ray to be taken. Two views are usually taken of each breast for a screening mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram requires more views and more detail than the screening exam. With modern mammography equipment used specifically for breast X-rays, very low levels of radiation are used.
New techniques are being studied in a search for better diagnosis of breast abnormalities. Examples of these new techniques include the following:
digital mammography, which records images in computer code instead of on X-ray film
MRI imaging, which uses a large magnet and radio frequencies to produce pictures of the breast tissue
positron emission tomography, or PET, which uses radioactive materials to create computer images
radionuclides, which uses contrast agents
ultrasound, which uses ultrasound waves instead of X-rays