A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women who have breast problems, such as a lump, pain, or nipple discharge, as well as for women who have no breast complaints.
Mammography cannot prove that an abnormal area is cancer, but if it raises the suspicion of cancer, tissue will be removed for a biopsy. Tissue may be removed by needle or open surgical biopsy and examined under a microscope to determine if it is cancer.
Mammography has been used for about 40 years, and in the past 15 years technical advancements have greatly improved both the technique and results. Today, dedicated equipment, used only for breast X-rays, produces studies that are high in quality, but low in radiation dose. Radiation risks are considered to be negligible.
The development of digital mammography provides electronic images of the breasts. These images can be enhanced by computer technology, stored on computers, and even transmitted electronically in situations where remote access to the mammogram is required.
Prior to a digital mammography, Northwell Health recommends that patients not use any talcum, underarm deodorant or body lotion on the day of the test. Patients should bring all previous mammograms and breast sonograms on the day of the exam.
The Northwell Health Breast Cancer Center provides the most advanced diagnostic mammograms for women with current symptoms or previous breast cancer:
- 3-D Mammography (digital breast tomosynthesis) — This emerging 3-D technology can detect lesions and reduce false alarms.
- Full Field Digital Mammography (FFDM) — FFDM produces exceptionally sharp digital images with less radiation exposure.
The different types of mammograms are:
A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer. It usually involves two X-rays of each breast. Using a mammogram, it is possible to detect a tumor that cannot be felt.
A diagnostic mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose unusual breast changes, such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. More pictures are taken than during a screening mammogram.
A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram. It is a basic medical tool and is appropriate in the workup of breast changes, regardless of a woman's age.