Regular breast care for women age 40 and older includes a yearly clinical breast exam by a health expert and an annual screening mammogram.
During a screening mammogram, each breast is X-rayed in two different positions: from top-to-bottom and from side-to-side. When a mammogram image is viewed, breast tissue appears white and opaque, and fatty tissue appears darker and translucent. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular health checkup every three years.
Understanding Mammogram Results
Abnormal results from a mammogram are more common than you might think. An abnormal report does not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer.
It means that you should meet with a physician to decide if you need extra tests. Potential abnormalities are found in less than 10 percent of women who have screening mammograms. These women require further evaluation, which may include diagnostic mammography or needle biopsy.
Suspicious Mammogram Findings
A potential abnormality on a mammogram may be called a nodule, mass, lump, density or distortion. If there is a suspicious finding on your mammogram, you typically will have additional mammogram views taken and/or an ultrasound performed.
A radiologist will consult with you to recommend additional evaluation in order to make a diagnosis. This might be an ultrasound-guided core biopsy, stereo-tactic breast biopsy, cyst aspiration, needle localization, surgical consultation or MRI-guided biopsy.
Ultrasound Versus Mammogram
Ultrasound is used to evaluate palpable breast lesions and to evaluate masses, distortions, or asymmetries found on mammography or MRI. Ultrasound forms images of the breast using sound waves instead of X-rays.
No compression is required; a warm gel is placed on the skin and an ultrasound probe is rubbed over the skin to obtain the image. Ultrasound can often detect abnormalities in extremely dense breast tissue, which otherwise might go undetected by mammography. Ultrasound is most commonly used in conjunction with mammography, not as a replacement for mammography.
Breast Exams: New Techniques
There are many exciting technologies being investigated in the field of breast imaging. The ultimate goal is to detect breast cancer at its earliest stage to give patients the best possible chance for a cure.
About the Authors
Alexander Starr, MD, is the medical director of Ingalls Memorial Hospital’s Richard K. Desser Breast Center. Lisa Gravitt, RN, BSN, OCN, is an Ingalls breast cancer nurse navigator.
For more information, contact Susan Fine, director, Ingalls Marketing Communications at 708-915-6127 .