HealthONE - October 29, 2018

What a mammogram is and why it's important

A mammogram can help detect the early onset of breast cancer. It is a tool used to screen for signs, and it may allow for more options to treat and improve the prognosis. A single mammogram test cannot determine if you have breast cancer, and potentially cancer. Additional testing would be required, but it is a pretty good indicator.

Different types of breast screening

  • Mammogram – You will stand in front of the mammography machine. A technologist will uncover your breasts and place them on a clear plastic plate. A second plate will be lowered next until the breast is pressed between the two plastic plates. Front and side images are then taken of each breast. NOTE: If, due to your menstrual cycle, your breasts are tender or swollen, you may want to think about scheduling your mammogram for the week following your cycle.
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (breast MRI) – This is used for women who have a high risk of breast cancer, as a breast cancer staging tool, or to assist in identifying lesions in females who have been diagnosed with breast cancer already. The breast MRI will generate 3-D detailed images of your breast by using a magnet connected to a computer. Occasionally, a healthcare professional may ask for a breast MRI with contrast, which means that a contrast dye will be injected into your body via an IV. NOTE: Though you may be at high risk for breast cancer, you should still schedule and get mammograms regularly, along with any other screening tests that your doctor recommends.
  • Breast ultrasound – Usually, this is for females who have lumps or abnormalities that have been identified with a self-exam, mammogram, or a clinical breast examination. A breast ultrasound test bounces sound waves off of the breast tissue which creates an image called a sonogram. You will be asked to lie down on a table or flat surface, raise your hands above your head, and a water-based gel will be applied to the area that will be tested. A radiologist or sonographer will administer the transducer across your breast. NOTE: The breast ultrasound is not in place of a regular mammogram.

Recommended mammogram screening schedule

  • Average risk of breast cancer - annual mammogram beginning at 40 years of age
  • Higher risk of breast cancer – please consult with your healthcare professional

What is the definition of “high risk”?

  • Breast exposure to radiation therapy prior to 30 years of age
  • Being overweight, especially after menopause
  • Previous personal history of breast cancer, or other abnormalities in the breast tissue
  • A high proportion of dense breast tissue instead of fatty tissue
  • Absence of breastfeeding
  • Increased exposure to estrogen, with your first period before 13 years of age, menopause after 51 years of age, and prolonged hormone replacement therapy
  • Previous biopsy results that indicate atypical hyperplasia, radial scar formation, or lobular carcinoma in situ

Preparing for your first appointment since being diagnosed

You will want to dress comfortably. You may be required to just remove your top, depending on the type of mammogram. Should you be having a mammogram, do not wear powder, perfume, or deodorant. Most centers will provide cleansing cloths, should you forget.


What if I'm breastfeeding, or pregnant? Should I take my regular test or wait?

You would be potentially putting the fetus in danger should you have a mammogram while you are pregnant. Should your obstetrician or gynecologist believe that it is important for you to have a breast screening while pregnant, they will order a breast ultrasound.

If you are breastfeeding, your tissues may appear more dense then they normally would, and it would make it more difficult for a radiologist to interpret the test results.

Can I still get a mammogram if I have a breast implant?

It is generally considered safe to have a mammogram if you have a breast implant. But, before the procedure is done, make sure that you share that information with the technologist as the machine may require special adjustments so they may obtain the best images.

What else is important for me to be aware of?

>It is in your best interest to always collect the results of each mammogram. Should there be any abnormalities, your healthcare professionals may decide to send you to a breast specialist or surgeon for additional evaluations or tests. If the results are normal, continue to follow the recommended mammogram scheduling.

The Sarah Cannon Cancer Network at HealthONE and Susan G. Komen Colorado are your resources for providing answers to your questions. As the most common cancer among women worldwide and the second-most common cancer overall, nearly 260,000 women are diagnosed each year with breast cancer.