What Is A Mammogram?
As a form of breast screening, a mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast that shows changes in the tissue. Mammograms can detect new lumps, or tiny clusters of calcium that can be the first signs of cancer that cannot be felt or seen on MRI, Ultrasound, or breast self-exam.
Mammography is the most effective method for breast cancer screening in the early stages. It is often the first line of early detection. Generally, mammography divides into two categories, Screening Mammograms, and Diagnostic Mammograms.
Routine screening mammography has long been the best way to catch breast cancer in the earliest stages when the disease is most treatable.
Recently, the 3D mammogram (tomosynthesis) has revolutionized mammography. Bedford Breast Center is pleased to be able to offer our patients 3D mammography at our Beverly Hills medical center.
What to Expect During a Mammogram
A woman having a mammogram must undress from above the waist. You’ll remove your top and bra and put on a gown (which will be provided to you by the mammography medical center) in a changing room.
Our nurse will bring you to the mammography room, where our mammography technician will help position your breast between two flat panels that are used to gently compress the breast to flatten and spread out the breast tissue. While compression can be uncomfortable for some women, it’s also very important. Compressing the breast thins and evens the breast tissue and is necessary to obtain clear x-rays images.
The mammography technician will then leave the room or go behind a screen and begin taking the x-rays. This process of positioning and imaging is repeated for additional views of the same breast or the other breast.
The entire procedure should take between 10 – 20 minutes for conventional mammography and a shorter 5 – 10 minutes for digital mammography. This time might increase for diagnostic vs screening mammography due to the additional views needed for diagnostic mammography.
- Two views are taken of each breast without implants
- Four views are taken of each breast with implants
- The amount of radiation exposure of a mammogram is less than flying from NYC to London and back, or less than the amount of radiation we are exposed to just living life in the US in a three month period
Do Mammograms Hurt?
To capture the clearest and most accurate image of the breast, the mammogram machine will first compress your breast on the imaging platform. We adjust the platform height so it reaches you without difficulty. The compression can cause discomfort, and for some women, it can cause pain.
This part of the procedure is necessary so the machine can get a clear and complete picture of your breast tissue. The compression lasts for a few seconds, then the imaging immediately follows.
If you experience a lot of pain, please let our technician know, and they can help you adjust your position for a more comfortable experience. We do our best to make our patients as comfortable as possible.
Why is a 3D Mammogram Better Than a Traditional 2D Mammogram?
With a 3D mammogram, we are able to image multiple breast tissue slices in each pass. When the images are viewed together, they recreate a 3D image of the breast.
Traditional 2D mammography takes only one static image with each pass. With a 3D mammogram, our radiologist has a more complete view of the breast. This improved clarity makes it easier to diagnose breast cancer, and it reduces the chance that we will see a false positive.
The benefits of 3D mammography:
- With a 3D mammogram, our radiologist is able to see very small tumors that may be obscured on a 2D mammogram. This increases the likelihood that we will diagnose breast cancer in the earliest stages, which paved the way for the best possible treatment outcomes.
- Patients who have a 3D mammogram are less likely to be called back to the office for additional views. This saves our patients time, money, and the anxiety that goes with needing to come back for further evaluation.
- The new 3D mammography is better for evaluating dense breast tissue than traditional 2D mammography. Dense breast tissue can make a 2D mammogram less sensitive, but because the 3-D mammogram technology divides the tissue into thin or slices, density is no longer an obstacle.
- There is less compression required and less overall radiation exposure for patients undergoing a 3D mammogram than with the previous 2D study types. This is one of the safest and most comfortable mammogram systems available today.
What is Digital Mammography?
Both conventional and digital mammography use x-rays to produce an image of the breast. Conventional mammography stores the image directly on film. Digital mammography is an electronic image stored as a computer file. The digital image can be enhanced, magnified and or manipulated for further evaluation much more easily than the film counterpart.
Digital mammography allows doctors to adjust, store and retrieve the digital images electronically with offers some advantages over conventional mammography.
- Healthcare providers can share files electronically making long distance consultations, second opinions, and consultations with breast surgeons much easier.
- Subtle difference between normal and abnormal tissues may be easily examined.
- Fewer repeat images may be needed, reducing the exposure to more radiation.
- Fewer follow-up procedures may be needed.
Digital mammography can be done in facilities that are certified to practice conventional mammography. The procedure for having a mammogram whether it’s digital or conventional is the same.
Preparing For A Mammogram At Our Beverly Hills Medical Center
There are a number of steps that you can take in order to prepare yourself for your mammogram in Beverly Hills at Bedford Breast Center.
- Schedule your mammogram just AFTER your period when the breast tissue is least tender and has the least amount of water retention. This will maximize accuracy and comfort.
- Bring previous mammography films or images on a CD – imaging centers can’t FAX or send images to us instantly or the same day – in order for us to have them, you must bring them with you or notify your former center 1-2 weeks before the appointment so that the images can arrive on time.
- Wear separates – (pants or skirt and a top), so that you can keep your bottoms on! Remember you will be undressing above the waist so if you wear a dress, you may feel more exposed once you remove it, we do provide a wrap for the exam, but most patients prefer to have a skirt or pants that they can keep on for the exam.
- Take Tylenol or Advil the morning of the study and avoiding salty food the day before to reduce discomfort.
- Notify the mammography facility when scheduling your mammogram appointment if you have breast implants.
- RELAX!! Stressing out can cause you to tighten up which may make positioning take longer and cause involuntary motion, which may mean having to repeat the images.
- Do not wear deodorant, powder, or creams under your arms– metallic particles present in most deodorant can cause unnecessary spots on the images.
- Worry about results, don’t worry if we find something and have to redo the exam – or worry about being told that an abnormality is present; rechecking is common and there are lots of healthy reasons for us to look into taking additional pictures or wanting to investigate with another form of imaging such as ultrasound or MRI.
- Avoid wearing bulky jewelry that will have to be removed during the mammogram.
- You will be getting undressed and redressed – try not to wear complicated garments or ones that are difficult to take on or off.
Mammograms After Breast Cancer
If you have had surgery for breast cancer, such as lumpectomy or mastectomy, or you’ve had breast reconstruction after mastectomy, you’ll likely receive a different recommendation for having screening mammograms than women normally do.
Mammograms After Lumpectomy
If you had a lumpectomy, plus radiation therapy, you can expect to have a mammogram of the treated breast about 6 months after finishing treatment. Radiation can cause some changes in the breast tissue and skin. This 6-month mammogram will become the new “standard” against which future mammograms of the remaining breast tissue are compared. From this point on, your doctor may say that yearly mammograms are sufficient or that the treated breast should still get a mammogram every 6 months for the next few years. Talk to your doctor about the plan that is best for you.
Mammograms After Mastectomy:
If you’ve had a single breast mastectomy, no additional mammograms are needed on that side because the breast tissue has been removed. You will however continue with your yearly screening mammograms as usual on the remaining breast. Those mammograms on the remaining breast are especially important because having cancer in one breast raises your risk of developing cancer in the other. No mammograms will be needed if you had a double mastectomy, as there is no more breast tissue to look at.
Mammograms After Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy:
Mammograms will be recommended if you had a special type of mastectomy called nipple-sparing mastectomy, also known as subcutaneous mastectomy. In this surgery, you keep your nipple and the tissue just under the skin. Enough breast tissue remains to warrant the continued use of screening mammograms.
Mammograms After Breast Reconstruction:
If you have breast reconstruction after mastectomy, in most cases, you will not need mammograms anymore. If you’ve had saline or silicone implants for reconstruction, you won’t need mammograms of the affected side as no breast tissue remains. With an implant, you and your doctor can still do a careful physical examination of the breast area. In general, if you’ve had reconstruction using tissue from another part of your body, typically you will not need mammograms of the affected breast. Regular physical exams of the reconstructed breast will be performed. Under some circumstances, doctors may recommend mammography after this kind of breast reconstruction:
- if you’re at high risk for local recurrence
- if physical examination of the breast is difficult
- if there is a questionable abnormality
Breast MRI is another and possibly more effective way to screen women who have had breast reconstruction and are at high risk for recurrence. Talk to your doctor about what he or she recommends for you, then contact Bedford Breast Center in Beverly Hills to receive the best screening mammogram Beverly Hills has to offer.
Why Do I Need A Mammogram?
Mammograms can show breast lumps before they can be felt by breast self-exams or clinical breast exams. They can also show tiny clusters of calcium.
These specks of calcium can be caused by cancer, fatty cells or other things like cysts. Additional breast screening methods may be needed to find out if abnormal cells are present.
Routine screening mammograms can find the presence of cancerous cells before it grows or spreads which can greatly increase survivability.
Visit medlineplus.gov to learn more about the importance of routine mammograms.
What Can A Mammogram Detect?
A mammogram is the first in a series breast screening tests that will help reveal a bigger picture.
While they’re looking for possible cancer, your doctors may also come across masses or structures in the breast that deserve further investigation.
Mammograms can detect abnormalities in the breast that can be symptoms of cancer or other non-consequential irregularities:
- Calcium deposits in ducts and other tissues (calcifications)
- Lumps or masses
- Asymmetric areas on the mammogram
- Dense areas found in only one breast or one area on the mammogram
- An area that appears denser than it did on your last mammogram
- Fibroadenomas (movable, solid, rounded lumps made up of normal breast cells)
I should start getting a mammogram at what age?
Age is just one factor to consider when determining when you should start getting regular mammograms. If you are low risk for breast cancer, your doctor will likely recommend you start getting mammograms every two years once you reach age 40. If you are high risk (have a family history of breast cancer or a history of precancerous breast lesions, for example), you may want to begin screenings sooner or more often.
What are doctors looking for on a mammogram?
- The asymmetry between two breasts
- Breast density based on how fibrous and glandular tissues are distributed in your breast, vs. how much of your breast is fatty tissue
- Calcifications or tiny mineral deposits, of which there are two kinds:
- Macrocalcifications: Large calcifications, usually not associated with cancer and are most likely due to changes in the breast caused by aging breast arteries, injuries, or inflammation. These are typically found in women over 50 years old.
- Microcalcifications: Specks of calcium in the breast. Doctors are more suspicious about microcalcifications, but they do not always mean that cancer is present. The shape and layout of microcalcifications help the radiologist judge how likely it is that cancer is present. Groups of small calcifications, called “clusters of microcalcifications,” are associated with extra breast cell activity. Most of the time, this is non-cancerous additional cell growth. Still, sometimes clusters of microcalcifications can occur in early cancer areas. In some cases, a biopsy might be needed to determine if it is cancerous.
- Mass, which is an area of the breast tissue that looks abnormal and can be caused by several things like cysts or solid masses
- A simple cyst is made up of fluid, which is very common and rarely associated with cancer. A cyst and a tumor can feel alike on a physical exam. They can also look the same on a mammogram. To confirm that a mass is a cyst, we conduct a breast ultrasound. Another option is a Needle Aspiration, which removes the cyst’s fluid with a thin, hollow needle.
- Fibroadenomas or movable, solid, rounded lumps made up of normal breast cells. While not cancerous, these lumps may grow. And any solid lump that’s getting bigger is usually removed to make sure that it’s not cancer. Fibroadenomas are the most common kind of breast mass, especially in young women.
- Lump or mass: If a mass is not a simple cyst (that is if it is at least partly solid), then you may need to have more imaging tests. Some masses can be watched with periodic mammograms, while others may need a biopsy. The size, shape, and margins (edges) of the mass help the radiologist determine if cancer is present. On a mammogram, a benign growth often looks smooth and round with a clear, defined edge. Breast cancer usually has a jagged outline and an irregular shape.
Are there alternatives to mammograms?
Mammography is the go-to, effective breast cancer screening technique, but there are other methods that we can use. At Bedford Breast Center, 3D mammography is standard for all our patients to ensure we get the most accurate picture possible. Our doctors might use another imaging technique, such as an ultrasound or MRI if we need to see other details after a mammogram. MRIs may also be the best option if you have undergone reconstruction. Our doctors will be able to recommend the best, least invasive option for you.
What should women with breast implants do about screening mammograms?
Women with breast implants should continue to have mammograms. (A woman who had an implant following a mastectomy should ask her doctor whether a mammogram of the reconstructed breast is necessary.) It is essential to let the mammography facility know about breast implants when scheduling a mammogram. The technician and radiologist must be experienced in performing mammography on women who have breast implants. Implants can hide some breast tissue, making it more difficult for the radiologist to detect an abnormality on the mammogram. Suppose the technician performing the procedure is aware that a woman has breast implants. The technician will ensure that as much breast tissue as possible can be seen on the mammogram.
For more information or to schedule a mammogram appointment at our Beverly Hills breast center, call (310) 878-0999 or contact the breast cancer specialists at Bedford Breast Center. We serve women throughout Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles.