Mammograms: what has changed?


A woman’s breast health is an important part of her overall health. Beginning at age 20, Clinical Breast Exams (CBEs) should be done by your doctor or nurse. Between age 40 and 50, an annual mammogram becomes the most effective way to detect breast disease and save lives through early treatment.

Mammography screenings continue to improve. The latest imaging technology offers less radiation, fewer retakes and a more accurate diagnosis. This is especially true for dense breasts. Breast density can affect screening results since this type of tissue makes it harder to find lesions. Density is determined by age, hormones and the ratio of fatty to fibro-cystic tissues.

Two Kinds of Mammograms

There are two kinds of mammograms - screening and diagnostic. Determining which is right for you is a personal decision and based upon your age and health status. A screening mammogram is used to find cancer when it is too small to be felt and no symptoms are present.

A diagnostic mammogram is a more comprehensive exam used when a problem is found during the screening mammogram or if breast changes have occurred. These may include lumps, dimpling, nipple discharge or pain. Additional views of the breast help identify the reasons for the abnormalities.

The following are the latest in diagnostic mammography:

Conventional 2D mammography is the common X-ray examination of the breast.

Tomosythesis/3D mammography provides the ability to view the breast in 1 mm slices, while minimizing overlapping tissue. New versions also cut the radiation dose in half, and reduce callbacks by almost 40 percent.

When a Mammogram Is Recommended

Starting routine screening between the ages of 40 and 50 is in line with national guidelines and recommendations. The American Cancer Society has amended their recommendation of annual screening for women at average risk beginning at age 45. Talk to your PCP about when and which screening is best for you.

Preparing for a Mammogram

Preparing for a mammogram is simple. On the day of your appointment, refrain from wearing deodorant, lotions or powder on or near the breast area. The breast is placed on a special cassette and compressed with a clear plastic paddle. A radiology technologist will position and photograph your breasts both from the top to the bottom and side to side.

After a Mammogram: Next Steps

Upon closer examination, an abnormality may be classified as benign. A biopsy, though, may be required to remove tissue in an attempt of finding cancer. It’s important to note nearly 80 percent of biopsies indicate noncancerous or benign diagnoses. Additionally, Breast MRI and MRI biopsies, Breast Ultrasound and Stereo-tactic biopsies are used to better define and detect abnormalities.

When it comes to your breast health, it’s important to know your family history, your options and the important role you play in preventive care.