All about mammograms

Mammography has been used for about 30 years. Recent technical advancements have greatly improved both the technique and results. Today, specialized equipment used only for breast imaging produce studies that are high in quality but low in radiation dose.

Why receive a mammogram?

Mammograms take a moment of your life to schedule, but also have the potential of adding years to your life.

What is mammography (mammogram)?

Mammography is an X-ray examination of the breast. It is used to detect and evaluate breast disease. The procedure allows detection of breast cancers, benign tumors, and cysts before they can be detected by palpation (touch).

Mammography cannot prove that an abnormal area is cancer. However, if it raises a significant suspicion of cancer, tissue may be sampled or biopsied.

What is 3D Mammography?

3D mammography is a new technology in the fight against breast cancer that allows doctors to examine breast tissue one layer at a time.

3D mammography uses high powered computing to convert digital breast images into a stack of very thin layers or "slices" - building what is essentially a 3-dimentional mammogram.

A good analogy for 3D mammography is like thinking of the pages of a book but when you open it up you can go through the entire book page-by-page to see everything between the covers.

Research shows breast cancer screening with 3D mammography, when combined with a conventional 2D mammography, has a 40 percent higher invasive cancer detection rate than conventional 2D mammography alone. It also provides a significant reduction in "call back" rates of 20 to 40 percent.(Statistical data and research information provided by Hologic, Inc.)

3D mammography is now offered at Nebraska Medicine in three locations, including the Olson Center for Women's Health, Bellevue Diagnostics and at our Radiology at Village Pointe location. Call 402-559-4500 for an appointment.

What are the different types of mammograms?

A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer. It usually involves two images of each breast.

A diagnostic mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose suspicious breast changes, such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram.

Who should get a screening mammogram?

The following screening guidelines are for early detection of cancer in women who have no symptoms:

Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their health care providers about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.

Women who are at an increased risk (family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer) should talk with their health care providers about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier, having additional tests (breast ultrasound or MRI), or having more frequent exams.

Consult your health care provider regarding the screening guidelines that are appropriate for you.

How is a mammogram performed?

Although each facility may have specific protocols in place, generally, a mammogram procedure follows this process:

  1. The patient should describe any symptoms or problems to the technologist prior to the examination (if any).
  2. The patient will undress from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear.
  3. The patient will be positioned at the mammography unit.
  4. The breast will be positioned between two plates of the mammography unit and pressure applied to compress the tissue. Breast compression is necessary in order to obtain the best image with the least amount of radiation possible.
  5. The patient will be asked to hold her breath for a few seconds while the images are taken.
  6. The technologist will step behind a protective window and the image will be taken.
  7. Each breast may be imaged at least two times from above and from the side positions to produce the films for the doctor to review.
  8. After the mammogram is performed, the patient may be asked to wait for a short time until the radiologist can review the films to determine if additional images are necessary.

What about the recent debates about the proper age for mammograms?

Read more about the controversy around the proper age for mammograms, from Edibaldo Silva, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgical Oncology at the Olson Women’s Center here

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