A mammogram is a picture of the breast made with x-rays on a specialized machine. A mammogram helps to pick up micro-calcifications which may be indicative of malignancy in non palpable breast lesions. Mammograms must be correlated with ultra sonography of the breast and clinical examination.
Mammogram exam does not require any special preparation such as fasting overnight or postponing taking your medication on the scheduled date. However, low doses of x-rays are used and so it requires necessary precautions. It is also important to follow instructions during the exam to ensure that clear images are obtained.
The day your doctor ordered your mammogram exam
Let your doctor know if you are having any breast symptoms, whether you are using any hormone medications and whether you have had any breast surgeries so she can advise you on what to do.
Let your doctor know if you are pregnant; even very low doses of x-ray is likely to affect a fetus.
Let your doctor know if you have implants, as special techniques are required for the mammogram exam to cater for this.
Be prepared to spend 1 hour at the facility on the scheduled appointment date.
The day of your mammogram exam
Arrive at the facility 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled appointment time to do paperwork.
Don’t wear jewelry on the day of your mammogram exam. You will be asked to take it off prior to imaging.
Wear comfortable clothing, as you will be asked to change into a hospital gown.
Don’t wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arm or around your breasts, as this will interfere with imaging and affect the accurate interpretation of your results.
The mammogram exam takes only about 20 minutes and produces very little discomfort.
However, breasts get tender during the menstrual period and so breast compression might enhance discomfort. For this reason, you might want to have your mammogram exam outside of your menstruation period.
Very low doses of x-rays are used in mammogram exam and have no known side effects.
There is the likelihood to have false negative results; mammograms are not perfect. A dense breast tissue can obscure cancer such that it does not appear on the mammogram. If this happens, cancer may advance before it is found out.
There is also a chance of obtaining the false positive result of your breast mammogram when a normal breast tissue cluster to look like a lump is developing. This will subject you to worries, more tests, more radiation exposures and follow-up visits that are unnecessary.
If your mammogram results show any indication of tumor growth, it is still not enough information to tell you to have cancer. Further tests need to be performed to confirm the results.
Mammograms can produce false positive results by the interference of imaging with powder, lotion, and deodorant in the armpit area.
Not all breast cancers can be seen on the mammogram. For this reason, Radiologists like to compare current mammogram images with previous years’ to see if there have been any changes in the breast tissue.
Increased breast density makes mammogram interpretation difficult. Unfortunately, this occurs with age and so 3D mammogram exam is recommended in this regard.
Digital tomosynthesis of the breast is different from a standard mammogram in the same way a CT scan of the chest is different from a standard chest X-ray. Or think of the difference between a ball and a circle. One is 3-dimensional, the other is flat.
Mammography usually takes two X-rays of each breast from different angles: top to bottom and side to side. The breast is pulled away from the body, compressed, and held between two glass plates to ensure that the whole breast is viewed. Regular mammography records the pictures on film, and digital mammography records the pictures on the computer. The images are then read by a radiologist. Breast cancer, which is denser than most healthy nearby breast tissue, appears as irregular white areas — sometimes called shadows.
Mammograms are very good, but they have some significant limitations:
Digital tomosynthesis is a new kind of test that's trying to overcome these three big issues. It takes multiple X-ray pictures of each breast from many angles. The breast is positioned the same way it is in a conventional mammogram, but only a little pressure is applied — just enough to keep the breast in a stable position during the procedure. The X-ray tube moves in an arc around the breast while 11 images are taken during a 7-second examination. Then the information is sent to a computer, where it is assembled to produce clear, highly focused 3-dimensional images throughout the breast.