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Health Encylopedia

Definition A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breasts. It is used to detect tumors and cysts and help differentiate benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) disease.
Alternative Names Mammogram
How the test is performed You will be asked to undress from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear. Depending on the type of equipment used, you will sit or stand. One breast at a time is rested on a flat surface that contains the X-ray plate, and a device called a compressor will be pressed firmly against the breast to help flatten out the breast tissue. The X-ray pictures are taken from several angles. You may be asked to hold your breath while the picture is taken.
How to prepare for the test Deodorant, perfume, powders and ointments under the arms or on the breasts may cause the pictures to be obscured and should not be worn the day of the mammogram. Remove all jewelry from the neck. Notify your health care provider (and/or the radiologist) if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
How the test will feel When the breast is compressed, there may be some discomfort.
Why the test is performed The test is performed if a woman has symptoms of a breast disease such as a lump, nipple discharge , breast pain , dimpling of the skin on the breast, or a new retraction of the nipple. Screening mammograms are important for early breast cancer detection, even when you don't have symptoms. The American Cancer Society recommends mammogram screening every year for all women age 40 and older. The National Cancer Institute recommends mammogram screening every 1-2 years for women age 40 and older. In addition to mammography, clinical breast exams (where the clinician palpates with the fingers) and breast self-exam are important for breast cancer screening. Women age 20 and older should receive clinical beast exams every three years; women age 40 and older should receive clinical breast exams every year. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women age 20 and older perform monthly breast self exam. These are general recommendations for mammography, clinical breast exams, and breast self exam. Women should discuss with their personal physician how often to receive breast cancer screening, including mammography and clinical breast exam. Recommendations can vary depending on personal risk factors such a strong family history of breast cancer.
Normal Values Breast tissue that shows no evidence of mass (aggregations of cells) or calcification is considered normal.
What abnormal results mean A well-outlined, regular, clear spot is more likely to be a benign lesion, such as a cyst (non-cancerous). A poorly outlined, opaque area is more likely to suggest a breast cancer . However, not all benign lesions are perfectly round, and some cancers may appear well-defined. When findings suspicious for a cancer are found on a mammogram, a biopsy is performed to determine if a lesion is benign or cancerous. Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:
  • Breast cancer
  • Breast infection
  • Fibrocystic breast disease
  • Lumps in the breasts
  • Breast pain
  • Nipple discharge
  • What the risks are
  • The level of radiation is low and any risk from the mammography is exceedingly low. If you are
  • pregnant and need to have an abnormality checked, the abdominal area will be shielded by a lead apron.
    Special considerations A mammogram is the most accurate test for breast cancer . Approximately 90 to 95% of breast cancers are detected with mammography. Mammography is important because it can detect cancers before you can feel them with your fingers.