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Empowering Women’s Health: The Vital Role of Mammograms in Early Cancer Detection.


A mammogram is an X-ray image of your breasts. It can be used either for breast cancer screening or for diagnostic purposes, such as to investigate symptoms or unusual findings on another imaging test. Mammograms play a key role in breast cancer screening. They can detect breast cancer before it causes signs and symptoms.


Mammograms can be used to look for breast cancer, either as a screening test in women without symptoms or in women who have symptoms that might be from cancer. A mammogram can often find or detect breast cancer early, when it’s small and even before a lump can be felt. This is when it’s likely to be easiest to treat.

Screening mammogram:

A screening mammogram is a routine (usually annual) mammogram that healthcare providers recommend to look for signs of cancer or abnormal breast tissue before you have symptoms. Screening mammography helps with the early detection of breast cancer. Early detection allows for early treatment, which may be more effective than if the cancer is found at a later stage.

  • Diagnostic mammogram: A diagnostic mammogram is used to investigate suspicious breast changes, such as a new breast lump, breast pain, an unusual skin appearance, nipple thickening or nipple discharge. It’s also used to evaluate unexpected findings on a screening mammogram. Sometimes diagnostic mammograms are used to screen women who were treated for breast cancer in the past.

While both types of mammograms use the same machines, diagnostic mammography uses additional imaging techniques, such as spot compression, supplementary angles or magnification views and is supervised by the radiologist at the time of the study.


Mammograms can help detect cancer, but they can’t diagnose cancer. While mammograms can show abnormal breast tissue, they can’t prove that an abnormal area in your breast is cancer. Rather, mammograms are an essential tool for helping healthcare providers decide whether you need additional testing, such as a breast biopsy. A breast biopsy can determine if tissue is cancerous or noncancerous.


Risks and limitations of mammograms include:
– Mammograms expose you to low-dose radiation. The dose is very low, though, and for most people the benefits of regular mammograms outweigh the risks posed by this amount of radiation.

– Having a mammogram may lead to additional testing. If something unexpected is detected on your mammogram, you may need other tests. These might include additional imaging tests such as ultrasound, and a procedure (biopsy) to remove a sample of breast tissue for laboratory testing. However, most findings detected on mammograms aren’t cancer.

If your mammogram detects something unusual, the doctor who interprets the images (radiologist) will want to compare it with previous mammograms. If you have had mammograms performed elsewhere, your radiologist may request for it.

– Screening mammography can’t detect all cancers. Some cancers detected by physical examination may not be seen on the mammogram. A cancer may be missed if it’s too small or is located in an area that is difficult to view by mammography, such as your armpit.

– Not all of the cancers found by mammography can be cured. Some breast cancers are aggressive, grow rapidly and quickly spread to other parts of the body.


To prepare for your mammogram:

  • Schedule the test for a time when your breasts are least likely to be tender. If you menstruate, that’s usually during the week after your menstrual period. Try not to schedule your mammogram the week before you get your period or during your period. Your breasts may be tender during this time, which could make the procedure more uncomfortable.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, pregnant or think you may be pregnant, tell your healthcare provider. They may suggest a breast ultrasound instead.
  • Bring your prior mammogram images. If you’re going to a new facility for your mammogram, request to have any prior mammograms placed on a CD. Bring the CD with you to your appointment so that the radiologist can compare past mammograms with your new images.
  • If you have breast implants or recently got a vaccine, be sure to tell the scheduler.
    On the day of your mammogram, follow these guidelines:
    • Follow your normal routine — eat, drink and take your normal medications.
    • Don’t wear deodorant, powders, lotions, creams or perfumes under your arms or on your breasts. These products can interfere with the accuracy of the X-ray images.
    • Some people prefer to wear a top and bottoms instead of a dress on the day of their mammogram. You’ll need to undress from your waist up for the imaging procedure. You’ll have a medical gown or drape to wear.


During the test:

At the testing facility, you’re given a gown and asked to remove neck jewelry and clothing from the waist up.

For the procedure itself, you stand in front of an X-ray machine specially designed for mammography. A member of your health care team places one of your breasts on a platform and raises or lowers the platform to match your height. Your head, arms and torso are positioned in order to allow an unobstructed view of your breast.

Your breast is gradually pressed against the platform by a clear plastic plate. Pressure is applied for a few seconds to spread out the breast tissue. The pressure isn’t harmful, but it can cause some discomfort. Tell your health care team if the discomfort becomes too much. Your breast must be compressed to even out its thickness and permit the X-rays to penetrate the breast tissue. The pressure also holds your breast still to decrease blurring from movement and minimizes the dose of radiation needed. During the brief X-ray exposure, you’ll be asked to stand still and hold your breath.

After the test:

After images are made of both your breasts, you may be asked to wait while your care team checks the quality of the images. If the views are inadequate for technical reasons, you may have to repeat part of the test. The entire procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes. Afterward, you may dress and resume your usual activities.


Undergoing a mammogram feels uncomfortable for some people due to the pressure on your breast tissue from the compression. For some people, it’s painful. The good news is that a mammogram is a brief procedure and the discomfort doesn’t last long. If you feel intense pain, tell the technologist immediately.

The level of discomfort you may feel depends on a few factors, including:

  • The size and density of your breasts.
  • How much your breasts need to be compressed.
  • If you’re about to get or are on your period (your breasts may be more tender and sensitive in this case).
  • The skill of the radiology technologist.
  • Your personal ability to relax and position yourself in the best way for good images.


Mammogram produces — black-and-white images of your breast tissue. Mammograms are digital images that appear on a computer screen. A doctor who specializes in interpreting imaging tests (radiologist) examines the images.

The radiologist looks for evidence of cancer and other conditions that may require further testing, follow-up or treatment. The results are compiled in a report and provided to you.
Ask your provider when and how the results will be shared with you.