There’s been a lot of discussion in the news media lately about recommendations for when to have your mammogram.  Women’s Imaging Specialists in Healthcare (WISH) supports the recommendations of the American Cancer Society, the Society of Breast Imaging and the National Consortium of Breast Centers: annual screening mammography for all women beginning at age 40.

After the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) announced that it no longer recommends routine screening for women between the ages of 40 and 49 Otis W. Brawley, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society came out with the following statements.

 “The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual screening using mammography and clinical breast examination for all women beginning at age 40. . . This is one screening test I recommend unequivocally, and would recommend to any woman 40 and over, be she a patient, a stranger, or a family member.

The USPSTF says that screening 1,339 women in their 50s to save one life makes screening worthwhile in that age group. Yet USPSTF also says screening 1,904 women ages 40 to 49 in order to save one life is not worthwhile. The American Cancer Society feels that in both cases, the lifesaving benefits of screening outweigh any potential harms.

With its new recommendations, the USPSTF is essentially telling women that mammography at age 40 to 49 saves lives; just not enough of them.”

If you would like to read the complete article, click here. 

Digital Mammography

One of the most recent advances in mammography is digital mammography. It’s similar to standard mammography in that x-rays are used to obtain detailed images of the breast. But, unlike analog (standard) mammography, the images are computerized and viewed on a special computer monitor instead of film.

With digital mammography, the magnification, orientation, brightness, and contrast may be altered after the exam is completed to assist the Radiologist more clearly see certain areas. Digital mammography is as good as analog mammography and better in younger patients, or those with very dense breast tissue.

From the patient’s perspective, a digital mammogram is the same as an analog mammogram. Both mammograms require breast compression and radiation to create the detailed images. The positioning is essentially the same for both exams.

However, the conventional analog mammogram requires several minutes for the film to be developed while the image from a digital mammogram is available for the mammography technologist to view in less than a minute. Thus the digital mammogram provides a shorter exam time for the patient.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a special low-dose x-ray of the breast that provides detailed images to help diagnose breast cancer and other conditions of the breast.

What is the difference between a screening and diagnostic mammogram?

screening mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breasts in a woman who has no complaints or symptoms of breast disease (asymptomatic). The goal of screening mammography is to find breast cancers, which are too small to feel, before they spread. Early detection of breast cancer improves a woman’s chance of successful treatment. Early detection can save lives.

diagnostic mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breasts in a woman with breast symptoms (symptomatic). If a woman has a lump or a mass, specific breast pain or a discharge from the nipple, the mammography examination will be specially tailored to that complaint.

In a diagnostic examination, several additional views may be obtained, in addition to the routine views. In many instances, breast ultrasound will also be used to obtain additional diagnostic information. For diagnostic mammography/ultrasound, your films will be read by our on site radiologist and you will receive the results before you leave.

What is digital mammography? How is it different from regular mammography?

In regular mammography (analog or screen-film) x-ray beams are captured on a film. Special x-ray machines developed exclusively for breast imaging are used to produce mammography films. These machines use very low-doses of radiation and produce very high quality x-rays. The procedure produces an image of the breast tissue on a film, which is examined by our radiologist for abnormalities or evidence of breast cancer.

In full field digital mammography, x-ray beams are captured on specially designed digital detectors. The digital detector converts the x-ray beams into electronic signals, which are sent to a computer. The radiologist can review the digital mammogram on a high-resolution computer monitor. Digital mammography takes less time and the mammography technologist can immediately view the images right in the mammography suite.

At what age should healthy women begin having mammograms?

The American College of radiology and the American Cancer Society both recommend screening mammography should begin annually at age 40 and annually thereafter. Women who are considered high risk may need to begin their screening mammography earlier. Discuss this with your doctor. More information on this topic is located at the top of this page.

I am only 25 but I have a lump. Should I just ignore it? Am I too young for a mammogram?

Never ever ignore a breast symptom. Always see your doctor about any breast concerns you may have, no matter what age. You may be too young for a mammogram, but there are other tests we can do, ultrasound for example.

Will a mammogram hurt?

Compressing the breast firmly is necessary to obtain the best image. Compression thins and evens the breast tissue, so that a lower x-ray dose can be used. Breast compression improves the detail on our images, prevents motion and displaces overlapping tissue. Breast compression lasts only a few seconds. It is uncomfortable, but less than painful.

Who reads my mammogram?

At Women’s Imaging Specialists in Healthcare (W.I.S.H) your screening mammogram is read by our specially trained radiologist. A radiologist is a highly trained medical doctor who specializes in creating and interpreting medical images. Your screening mammography results will be mailed to you, usually within 5-7 working days.

If you are scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram/ultrasound our radiologists are available on site to read your mammogram/ultrasound immediately. You will be given the results of your exam (s) and the radiologist is available to answer any questions you may have. Our specialists have years of experience interpreting breast imaging studies, and this is all they do.

Isn’t there a better test than mammography – like Ultrasound or MRI?

Mammography is still the “gold standard” in breast imaging. It is still the best breast cancer screening test for most women.

Breast Ultrasound and MRI are great tests. They are usually used in conjunction with mammography, not as a replacement for mammography.

Ultrasound utilizes sound waves, not x-rays and MRI used a magnetic field. While these are excellent tools Breast MRI and Breast Ultrasound are only used as screening devices in a select population.

Does a mammogram find all breast cancer?

Mammography is the best test available, but it is not perfect. Between 10-15% of breast cancers may not show up on a mammogram, but 85-90% do.