What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is a test that is done to look for abnormalities, or problems, with
a woman's breasts. The test uses a special x-ray machine to take pictures of both breasts. The results are recorded on film and interpreted by a specialist radiologist.
Mammograms look for breast lumps and changes in breast tissue that may develop into problems over time. They can find small lumps or growths that are impossible to feel. Breast lumps or growths can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). If a lump is found, a health care provider may suggest a biopsy, a test where a small amount of tissue is taken from the lump and area around the lump. A pathologist (specialist doctor) looks at the sample under the microscope to see if there is any sign of cancerous cells. Finding breast cancer early means that a woman has a better chance of surviving the disease. There are also more choices for treatment when breast cancer is found early.
Are there different types of mammograms?
Screening mammograms are done for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. Diagnostic mammograms are done when a woman has symptoms of breast cancer or a breast lump. Diagnostic mammograms take longer than screening mammograms because more pictures of the breast are taken.
Digital mammography is a relatively new technique, and is available at BreastScreen Victoria and at Tress Radiology at Melbourne Private Hospital. This technique records x-ray images on a computer, rather than film. It can reduce exposure to radiation, and allow adjustments without having to take another mammogram.
Are mammograms safe?
A mammogram is a safe, low-dose x-ray of the breast. A high-quality mammogram, along with clinical breast examination (exam done by a professional health care provider) are the most effective tools for detecting breast cancer early.
How is a mammogram done?
You stand in front of a special x-ray machine. The radiographer (woman who takes the x-rays) places your breasts (one at a time) between two plastic plates. The plates press your breast and make it flat. You will feel pressure on your breast for a few seconds. It may cause some discomfort. But, the flatter your breasts, the better the picture. Most often, two pictures are taken of each breast - one from the side and one from above. The whole thing takes only a few minutes.
How is a mammogram done in a woman with breast implants?
If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your radiographer. You will need an x-ray technician who is trained in x-raying patients with implants. This is important because breast implants can hide some breast tissue, which could make if difficult for the radiologist to see breast cancer when looking at your mammograms. For this reason, to take a mammogram of a breast with an implant, the x-ray technician might gently lift the breast tissue slightly away from the implant.
How often should I get a mammogram?
Australian recommendations are to have a mammogram once every two years starting age 50. Women at increased risk of breast cancer can start screening mammography earlier, often at age 40. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have a mammogram. Be aware that mammograms don't take the place of having a physical examination from your GP.
If you find a lump or see changes in your breast, talk to your GP right away no matter what your age. Your GP may order a mammogram or ultrasound, or refer you to a surgeon for further evaluation.
Where can I get a mammogram?
BreastScreen Victoria is a government funded mammography screening program in Australia for women without breast symptoms or breast problems. The Program aims to detect breast cancer early in its development when treatment can be most effective.
Call 13 20 50 for all breast screen appointments or
click here to visit
How can I get ready for my mammogram?
First, check with the place you are having the mammogram for any special things you may need to do before you go. Here are some general guidelines to follow:
Make your mammogram appointment for one week after your period. Your breasts hurt less after your period.
Wear a shirt with shorts, pants, or a skirt. That way you can undress from the waist up and leave your shorts, pants, or skirt on when you have your mammogram.
Don't wear any deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder under your arms or on your breasts on the day of your mammogram appointment. These things create shadows on your mammogram.
Are there any problems with mammograms?
As with any medical test, mammograms can have limits. These limits include:
Mammograms are only part of a complete breast examination. If they show abnormalities your health care provider will follow-up with other tests.
False negatives can happen. This means everything may look normal, but cancer is actually present. False negatives don't happen often. Younger women are more likely to have a false negative mammogram than are older women. This is because the breast tissue is denser, making cancer harder to spot.
False positives can happen. This is when the mammogram results look like cancer is present, even though it is not. False positives are more common in younger women than older women.
This FAQ was adapted from mammography fact sheets from the National Cancer Institute.