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Definition of Mammogram
An X-RAY examination of the breast. The most common use of mammogram is for early detection of breast cancer. However, mammogram may be a diagnostic tool in the evaluation of various conditions that affect the breasts.
Most abnormal findings mammograms detect are not cancer.
Diagnostic Mammogram – Procedure
Most often a woman stands for a mammogram. The technologist places one breast on a shelf on the X-ray machine, beneath which is the X-ray film. A moving shelf then compresses the breast against the shelf to somewhat flatten the breast tissue for better visualization.
With routine screening mammogram the technologist takes two Xrays of each breast, one from the side and one from above. The entire procedure—positioning and taking the images—takes about 10 minutes. With diagnostic mammogram the technologist takes up to five images, in different positions, of each breast.
The entire procedure for diagnostic mammogram takes about 15 minutes.
Though mammogram is generally quick and painless, some women experience discomfort with the compression of their breasts. Women who are still menstruating should have routine mammograms two weeks after the end of their menstrual periods to minimize discomfort, as the breasts are least sensitive at this time.
Most health-care providers recommend routine screening mammograms beginning at age 40 for women who have no unusual risks for breast cancer-every two years between ages 40 and 50 and once a year after age 50. Women who have had breast cancer or have three or more risk factors for breast cancer should talk with their doctors about the appropriate intervals for mammogram.
Because the breast tissue of menstruating women is very dense it blocks visualization of abnormalities, making screening mammogram impractical in younger women. With menopause the breast tissue becomes considerably less fatty and dense, so abnormal growths are readily obvious.
Mammogram often can detect growths and tumors in the breast before they reach a size at which the woman or her health-care provider can feel them.
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