Digital mammography technology provides the highest level of accuracy for even the smallest tumors. With digital mammography, image capture is instant. There is no wait for a film to be developed to ensure the image is clear. It also can be zoomed in for further review. You will receive your mammogram results in 24 hours. But more importantly, if anything suspicious is found, we'll make sure that you receive all follow-up testing - including a biopsy, if necessary - within a matter of days, not weeks.
How a digital mammogram is performed
You will be asked to undress from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear.
One breast at a time is rested on a flat surface that contains the x-ray plate. A device called a compression paddle will be used to spread out the breast tissue.
Two pictures are taken of each breast. You will be asked to hold your breath as each picture is taken.
Sometimes you may be asked to come back at a later date for more mammogram images. This does not always mean you have breast cancer. Rather, the doctor may simply need to evaluate an area of interest seen on the screening mammogram..
How to prepare for a digital mammogram
Do not wear deodorant, perfume, powders, or ointments under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the mammogram. These substances can mimic the images. Remove all jewelry from your neck and chest area.
Tell your health care provider and the technologist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How a digital mammogram test will feel
The machine may feel cold. When the breast is compressed, you may have discomfort. However, this needs to be done to get quality images.
Why a digital mammogram is performed
Mammography is performed to:
- Screen healthy women for signs of breast cancer
- Further evaluate an abnormal finding on a physical exam
- Monitor and follow a woman who has had an abnormal mammogram
- Evaluate a woman who has symptoms of a breast disease, such as a lump, nipple discharge, breast pain, dimpling of the skin on the breast, or retraction of the nipple.
Screening mammograms are improving the detection of early breast cancer, when it is more likely to be curable.
- The American Society recommends that women begin breast cancer screening at age 40 and have repeat mammograms every year.
- Women with a mother or sister who had breast cancer should consider yearly mammograms 10 years earlier than the age at which their youngest family member was diagnosed.
Breast tissue that shows no signs of a mass or abnormal calcification is considered normal.
What abnormal results mean
Most abnormal findings on a screening mammogram turn out to be benign or nothing to worry about. However, any new findings or changes must be further evaluated.
A radiology doctor may see the following types of findings on a mammogram:
- A well-outlined, round nodule (this is more likely to be a noncancerous condition such as a cyst)
- Masses or lumps
- Dense areas in the breast that could potentially hide breast cancer
- Calcifications, which are tiny deposits of calcium in your breast tissue. Most calcifications are not a sign of cancer.
The American College of Radiology (ACR) has developed a grading system for radiology doctors to use when they report the results of a mammogram. Terms you may hear your doctor use include:
- Benign (noncancerous) finding
- Probably benign
- Suspicious abnormality
- Highly suggestive of malignancy or cancer
- Incomplete (needs additional imaging evaluation)
Often, the following tests are also needed:
- Additional mammogram views -- sometimes called magnification or compression views
- Breast MRI exam
- Breast ultrasound
- Breast biopsy
Comparing your current mammogram to your past mammograms helps the radiologist tell whether you had an abnormal finding in the past, and whether it has changed.
When mammogram or ultrasound results look suspicious, a biopsy is done to test the tissue and see if it is cancerous.
The risks of a digital mammogram
The level of radiation is low. If you are pregnant and need to have an abnormality checked, your belly area will be covered and protected by a lead apron.
Routine screening mammography is not done during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.