A digital mammography, or mammogram, is a low dose x-ray which captures a picture of the breast tissue. The breast is carefully positioned on a film cassette and gently compressed with a special paddle so that the maximum amount of tissue will appear in the image. This flattening also helps spread the tissue in dense parts of the breast more evenly so that a clearer picture of these areas can be obtained. It also helps doctors determine which changes are noncancerous (benign) and which are cancerous (malignant). Unlike the standard mammography, the digital mammography captures the images electronically and allows them to be viewed on a computer screen. Although the test is administered the same, the digital mammography enhances visibility by up to 300% making it more likely to see lumps and other abnormal changes that may be present in the breast tissue. Women should begin their first mammogram at age 35 (first mammogram is a baseline x-ray). If the results of this screening are normal, then begin annual mammograms at age 40.
- Schedule your mammogram at the end of your menstrual cycle when your breasts are least tender. The readings will be more accurate, the compression will be more comfortable, and when they compare films from year to year, they will be comparing breasts of similar status.
- When possible, go to the same imaging center each year. If you move or change sites, bring your films with you.
- Make sure the center that is doing your mammogram is accredited by the American College of Radiology. This will ensure that accurate and safe dosages of radiation are being used.
- Women who have a personal or family history of breast cancer should speak to their doctor about getting mammograms sooner.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast uses magnetic fields and radio waves to make computer 2-D and 3-D pictures of the breast. A contrast is given to provide metabolic information. A technologist will position the patient lying faced down on a concave table. Both breasts will be positioned in the concave opening of the table which contain a breast coil which helps create the pictures of the breasts.
Breast MRI Tips
- Women who are at higher risk or have a personal or family history of breast cancer should speak to their doctor about having Breast MRIs with routine mammography.
- The breast MRI should supplement mammography screening not replace it.
- Breast MRIs can successfully image dense breasts (usually found in younger women)
Breast ultrasound (also referred to as sonography or ultrasonography) is often used as a tool to help evaluate an abnormality detected through a clinical breast examination or mammography. During an ultrasound, the patient lies on the table and a gel is applied to the area of the breast that is being examined. The ultrasound technologist (sonographer) or radiologist then glides a transducer, a small hand held instrument, over the breast. The breast ultrasound uses sound waves to distinguish solid and fluid filled masses. For example, a breast ultrasound can detect cysts which are fluid-filled masses that are noncancerous (benign).
Breast Ultrasound Tips
- Some physicians may require their patients to schedule a breast ultrasound with their routine mammography to. The breast ultrasound does not replace the mammography but complements it.
Learn more about how this fits into the 3-Pronged Approach of breast health.