Mammography is specialized medical imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to see inside the breasts. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, aids in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women.
How often should I get a mammogram?
Based on the American College of Radiology, women should begin yearly mammograms at age 40 and continue as long as they are in good health. Clinical breast exams (CBEs) should be about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women 40 and over. Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel, and report any breast changes to a healthcare provider right away. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is small: less than 2% of all women in the United States.) Talk with a doctor about your history and whether you should have other tests or start testing at an earlier age.
What can mammograms show?
The radiologist will look at your x-rays for breast changes that do not look normal and for differences in each breast. He or she will compare your past mammograms with your most recent one to check for changes. The doctor will also look for lumps and calcifications.
- Lump or mass, the size, shape, and edges of a lump sometimes can give doctors information about whether or not it may be cancer. On a mammogram, a growth that is benign often looks smooth and round with a clear, defined edge. Breast cancer often has a jagged outline and an irregular shape.
- Calcification, a calcification is a deposit of the mineral calcium in the breast tissue. Calcifications appear as small white spots on a mammogram.
If calcifications are grouped together in a certain way, it may be a sign of cancer. Depending on how many calcium specks you have, how big they are, and what they look like, your doctor may suggest that you have other tests. Calcium in the diet does not create calcium deposits, or calcifications, in the breast.
What if my mammogram shows a problem?
If you have a test result that suggests cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history. You may have a physical exam. Your doctor also may order some of these tests:
Diagnostic tests include:
- Diagnostic mammogram, which involves the same test as screening mammography but focuses on a specific area of the breast
- Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to produce images of the breasts to help your doctor locate tumors by differentiating solid lumps (possibly cancerous) from fluid-filled sacs, called cysts (noncancerous) and guide biopsies
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses magnets and radio waves to produce images of the breasts to look for tumors and determine whether they’re noncancerous or cancerous as well as the size and location
- Biopsy, which involves removing a sample of fluid or tissue from your breast that your doctor will send to the laboratory for testing to determine whether or not the cells are cancerous
Where can I have a mammogram done?
Patients who wish to have a mammogram should schedule an appointment by calling Trinity Health’s Mammography Scheduling line at 857-2640, or in Williston at Trinity Health Western Dakota, 701-774-0810.