Mammography uses a low-dose x-ray system and high-contrast, high-resolution film for examination of the breasts. Successful treatment of breast cancer depends on early diagnosis. Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers and can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. It has been shown that mammography can detect 85 to 90 percent of breast cancers in women over 50.

The use of screening mammography can assist in the detection of disease even if you have no complaints or symptoms. While the AMA and ACR recommend that women aged 40 and older should undergo annual mammograms, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says women who are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer, or who have had breast cancer, may need to have mammograms at an earlier age. The initial two mammography images themselves are not always enough to determine the existence of a benign or malignant disease with certainty. If a suspicious finding or spot is seen the radiologist may recommend further imaging.


Preparation for a Mammogram

Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. The best time is one week following your period. Always inform your doctor or radiographer if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.  Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms on the day of the exam as these can appear on the x-ray film as white spots mimicking pathology.

Very importantly, find your previous mammogram films and make them available to the radiologist at the time of the current examination. Ask when your results will be available; do not assume the results are normal if you do not hear from your doctor.

Frequently asked questions:

Q:  What can I expect when I go for a mammogram?

A:  During mammography a radiographer will position the patient and image the breast. The breast is first placed on a special cassette and compressed with a paddle (made of clear Plexiglas or other soft plastic).

Breast compression is necessary in order to:

  • Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized
  • Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities aren’t obscured by overlying breast tissue
  • Allow the use of a lower x-ray dose since a thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged
  • Hold the breast still in order to eliminate blurring of the image
  • Reduce x-ray scatter which also leads to poor image quality

The radiographer will make the first x-ray exposure. You will be asked to change positions slightly between images. The process is then repeated for the other breast.

Generally, this is a painless procedure. You will feel pressure on the breast as it is squeezed by the compressor. Some women with sensitive breasts may experience discomfort.  Be sure to inform the radiographer if pain occurs as compression is increased. 

The examination process may take up to half an hour. Sometimes additional films need to be taken from different angles or with differing degrees of compression to show internal breast structures more clearly.  It may also be necessary to perform an ultrasound examination to add more information, particularly if breast tissue is dense, or if a lump can be felt or seen. This examination will be performed by the radiologist immediately following your mammogram.


Q:  When will I get the result?

A:  The radiologist will interpret the films and dictate a report which will usually be available immediately after the examination.  At some of our branches you might be asked to collect your result the following day.  The reason for this is that in our practice all mammograms are reviewed by two radiologists to increase accuracy of diagnosis.   


Q: Do I need to book an appointment?

A: For a routine mammogram you will need to make a booking.  Pre-menopausal patients with very sensitive breasts are advised to make their appointment after their monthly period rather than just before it (See preparation for a mammogram).  Please remember to bring along your previous mammograms for comparison.

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