A Women’s Guide to Educated Breast Health

For most women, a mammography provides the best way to find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is usually the most highly successful.* A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of your breasts that can detect many changes that are too small or too deep to feel. Mammograms are considered safe, quick and relatively painless. They are available through a doctor’s orders or, in some cases, a self-referral. Annual mammograms are recommended for all women ages 40 and over. 

What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts using low -dose radiation. The key role of mammography is identifying breast cancer early in its development when it is very small. This is often a year or two before it is large enough to be felt by you or your healthcare provider as a lump. A screening mammogram is used to help find breast cancer early in women who have no symptoms.

With a screening mammogram, a radiologist is not only looking for breast cancer shadows, but is also looking for calcifications, cysts and fibroadenomas (solid lumps of normal breast cells). A diagnostic mammogram may be done as a problem-solving examination in patients who have abnormal physical findings or an abnormal screening mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms may also be used for patients with breast implants.

Mammography detects about 2-3 times as many early breast cancers as a physical examination and is considered the “gold standard” in breast cancer detection. It is the best method to screen for the presence of a small undetectable lump or a group of micro-calcifications, which may be the only sign of breast cancer.

While mammography is the best screening exam available today, about 1 in 10 cancers will not be identified until they can be felt as lumps. That is why breast self-examination and regular exams by your healthcare provider remain integral components of breast cancer detection.

One of the newest techniques approved to aid in early detection of cancer in screening mammograms is CAD (computer-aided detection). The CAD technology basically works like a second pair of eyes, reviewing a mammogram film after the radiologist has already made an initial interpretation.

With CAD, the x-ray image taken in a mammogram is created into a digital image and the computer then scans the image and marks any suspicious looking areas that may not have been visible by the radiologist. Those areas can then be studied in more detail by a radiologist who can decide if a biopsy or further evaluation is needed.

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