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Imaging/Radiology

Mammography

 

Mammographies are scheduled at the Breast Center  Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 215-710-2208 to schedule an appointment. If you are an uninsured woman over 40, please read about our Breast Health Initative.

What is Mammography?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. A screening mammogram is used to look for signs of breast disease when you do not have any breast symptoms. Many breast cancers take years to develop. A mammogram can detect cancer in its early stages, even before a lump can be felt, when treatment can be most successful. Screening mammograms usually take x-ray pictures of each breast from 2 different angles.

Mammograms should be obtain annually by all women beginning at the age of 40

  • Those with a parent or sibling who has had breast cancer should start annual mammography at an age 10 years younger than the parent or sibling's age of diagnosis.
  • Women who have a history of radiation treatment to the chest have different guidelines and should consult their physician

Mammograms should continue annually for life

  • As long as a woman is healthy enough to benefit from treatment

Mammograms can also be used to look at a woman's breast if she has a breast problem or a change seen on a screening mammogram. When used in this way, they are called diagnostic mammograms. They may include extra views (images) of the breast that are not usually done on screening mammograms.

Mammograms can't prove that an abnormal area is cancer, but they can give information that shows whether more testing is needed. The 2 main types of breast changes that can be found with a mammogram are calcifications and masses.

Calcifications are tiny mineral deposits within the breast tissue, which look like small white spots on the pictures. They may or may not be caused by cancer. There are 2 types of calcifications:

  • Macrocalcifications are coarse (larger) calcium deposits that are most likely changes in the breasts caused by aging of the breast arteries, old injuries, or inflammation. They are not cancer.
  • Microcalcifications are tiny specks of calcium in the breast. They may be alone or in clusters. Microcalcifications seen on a mammogram are of more concern. They usually do not mean that cancer is present, but a biopsy may be needed to know for sure. (A biopsy is taking out a piece of tissue to see if cancer cells are in it.)

A mass, which may or may not have calcifications, is another important change seen on mammograms. Masses can be many things, including cysts (non-cancerous, fluid-filled sacs) and non-cancerous solid tumors, but they could also be cancer. Any mass that is not clearly a cyst should be biopsied.

Having your older mammograms available for the radiologist is very important. They can help to show that a mass or calcification has not changed for many years, which would mean that the mass is probably not cancer and a biopsy is not needed.

How does it work?

A mammogram uses a machine designed to look only at breast tissue. The machine takes a different form of x-ray at lower doses than a usual x-ray. Because these x-rays do not go through tissue easily, the machine has 2 plates that compress or flatten the breast to spread the tissue apart. This gives a better picture and uses less radiation.

Digital mammography: A digital mammogram (also known as full-field digital mammography or FFDM) is like a standard mammogram in that x-rays are used to make a picture of the breast. The differences are in the way the picture is made, looked at, and stored. Standard mammograms are printed on large sheets of photographic film. Digital images are recorded and saved as files in a computer. After the exam, the doctor can look at the pictures on a computer screen and adjust the size, brightness, or contrast to see certain areas more clearly. Digital images can also be sent electronically to another site for other breast specialists to see. Although many centers do not offer the digital option at this time, it is expected to become more widely available in the future. Women should not skip their regular mammogram if a digital mammogram is not available.

*Information from the American Cancer Society