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What is 'mammography'?


Kenneth W. Chin (M.D., F.A.C.R.) gives expert video advice on: How should I prepare for a mammogram?; What does mammography equipment look like?; What can I expect when getting a mammogram? and more...

What is 'mammography'?

Mammography is an X-ray technique where women's breasts can be imaged. Usually the reason for the X-ray examination is to determine whether or not there's a cancer that might be developing.

What is 'digital mammography'?

Digital mammography is different to film mammography in that the x-ray information that is obtained is captured in a solid state device. This is then immediately available on a computer console. As opposed to film mammography, which requires development of that film, that sometimes can take five to ten minutes.

Who should get mammograms?

All women who are older than 40 should have a mammogram annually.

Why would someone get a mammogram?

A woman should get a mammogram as a screening examination on an annual basis after 40 years of age. However, if the woman has a higher risk for breast cancer because of a family history, or if you feel a breast lump, then you should contact your physician, who will then advise you with regard as to whether or not a mammogram is the appropriate examination.

What does mammography equipment look like?

Mammography equipment looks like a small x-ray machine with a paddle which is usually a clear plastic that can assist in compressing the breast tissue so that we can have a uniform image of the breasts.

How does mammography work?

A mammogram works on the basis of allowing us to look at differences in density of the tissue in the breast. If there are areas that are particularly dense, especially in a certain pattern, then we become more suspicious that a cancer might be present. We also look for calcium deposits because some calcium deposits can be more suspicious or worrisome than others.

What can I expect when getting a mammogram?

What you can expect when you are having a mammogram; is that the technologists will place you into the X-Ray machine and a device will be placed on your breast. This will press down on your breast in order to hold it still and in order to allow us to have a uniform thickness of your breast that we can image, without having to have areas that are too thick or too thin.

Are there risks involved in getting a mammogram?

There can occasionally be some risks involved in mammography. In particular, if you have a breast implant, please notify your technologist, because some implants are more susceptible to injury or rupture than others. However, the procedure is still a very safe one in patients with breast implants.

What is a 'false positive' and 'false negative' mammogram?

Mammography however is not a perfect test. You can have abnormalities that are seen on mammograms that don't turn out to be cancers or anything to be concerned about. Those are called false positive examinations. On the other hand, you can also have examinations that might not detect a cancer that you might have in your breast. So it's not a perfect examination.

What are the benefits of mammography?

The benefits of mammography include the potential for early detection of breast cancers. It can be done on a regular basis with very little risk.

How accurate is mammography in detecting an abnormality in the breast?

In patients with very fatty breasts, mammography can be accurate up to 95 percent of instances. In patients with very, very dense breasts, the accuracy drops to as low as 45 percent.