Health Topics

Mammogram FAQs

By DuPage Medical Group Radiology

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Breast cancer typically has no symptoms when the tumor is small and most easily cured. This is why it is very important for women to follow screening guidelines for early detection. Mammography is one of the key tools for early detection of breast cancer and has proven to save lives and increase treatment options. Dr. Anne Zimmermann, a fellowship-trained DMG radiologist, answers questions below about mammograms.

How is a mammogram performed?

When having a mammogram, the breast is briefly compressed (or squeezed) between two plates attached to a mammogram machine. The breast is compressed by an adjustable paddle to keep the breast from moving and to reduce the thickness of the breast tissue. This also reduces the X-ray exposure making the image sharper. Both breasts are compressed in two projections, side-to-side and top-to-bottom.

What does a mammogram detect?

Mammograms detect lumps, calcifications, abnormal densities and lymph nodes, also in addition to skin or nipple changes which can indicate cancer.

When should I have my first screening mammogram and how often thereafter?

Screening mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 with yearly exams thereafter. If a patient’s mother had a premenopausal cancer, then mammograms are recommended when the patient is 10 years younger than the age her mother developed breast cancer.

Example: Mother diagnosed at age 45, daughter’s first mammogram would be at age 35.

What are the benefits of screening mammography?

Because the goal of screening mammography is to find breast cancer that can’t be felt by a woman or her physician, a screening mammogram can aid in an early diagnosis of breast cancer which will greatly improve a patient’s outcome.

Are mammograms painful?

The compression for a mammogram may feel uncomfortable and even painful for some women. It only lasts a few seconds and is needed to get a good ‘picture’ of the breast. Patients must tell the technologist (who stays in the room to perform the exam) if the exam is extremely uncomfortable. For some women, breasts may become overly sensitive during or near their menstrual cycle. Avoiding an exam during this timeframe may be beneficial. Medication such as ibuprofen may also help to relieve breast tenderness.

Why does the office need my previous mammogram films?

Comparing mammogram studies over time can show changes that might indicate breast cancer. Having previous exams to compare with a current study will improve detecting early cancers and may prevent unnecessary additional imaging and biopsies.

What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

Screening mammograms are performed on an asymptomatic patient (patient with no symptoms) to detect the presence of breast cancer at an early stage. Diagnostic mammograms are performed on a patient with clinical signs, symptoms, or physical findings suggestive of breast cancer; an abnormal or questionable screening mammogram; and a history of breast cancer with breast conservation surgery.

How effective are mammograms?

Screening mammography has been shown to save lives and the long term benefit of screening has also shown to decrease breast cancer deaths by 30%.

What if I have breast implants?

If breast implants are present, images are obtained with the implant in place and also with the implant pushed back towards the chest to show more breast tissue. Images with the implant in place are limited to the amount of compression applied compared to the displaced views.

How should I prepare for my mammogram?

Schedule your screening mammogram when your breasts are least likely to be tender. That time period is usually the week after your menstrual period has ended. Medication such as ibuprofen may also help to relieve breast tenderness.

Don’t wear deodorant, powders, lotions or perfumes under your arms or on your breasts.

Obtain and bring your prior mammograms for comparison if your exams were not performed at DMG.

Does the radiation from a mammogram cause cancer?

Mammograms emit very small doses of radiation and the risk of harm is extremely low. The benefit of an early cancer diagnosis always outweighs the potential harm from exposure.

How will I get the results from my mammogram?

At DMG a letter is mailed to the patient with the results of their exam.  Your results will also be visible in MyChart.

What if my screening mammogram shows a problem?

If a screening mammogram shows a problem the patient will be contacted by phone to schedule additional imaging studies of at the area of concern.

Do I need to get a referral to get a mammogram at DMG?

Existing DMG patients do not need a referral for a screening mammogram. She simply must be at least 40 years old in order to schedule an appointment. If you are new to DMG a physician referral is required.

What are the differences between analog, digital and 3D mammography?

Analog or film screen units are machines that produce the mammogram image on X-ray film. Digital mammography units capture the images in a format so that they can be viewed on a computer screen. 3D Mammography (breast tomosynthesis) takes thin 1mm image ‘slices’ of the breast tissue from many angles that are reconstructed with computer software. DMG uses a combination of digital as well as 3D mammography to get the clearest image possible which results in fewer call backs for additional testing.

To schedule your screening mammography, call 630-545-7880.

For more information on other mammography-related topics, visit our Health Topics library. 

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