A mammogram (mammography exam) is deemed the gold standard for breast cancer screening. Nonetheless, it cannot prove that an abnormal area is indicative of breast cancer. What it does, instead, is that it allows for breast cancer detection by helping physicians determine if further investigation is necessary.
A mammogram is a special type of X-ray that is used to examine breast tissue and detect any changes and abnormalities, particularly masses and calcifications.
- A mass is an area of dense breast tissue with a profile and edges that look dissimilar to surrounding breast tissue. A mass does not always mean cancer: it could be a cyst (fluid-filled sac), or a noncancerous tumor.
If a mass is detected, further investigation, such as a breast ultrasound or biopsy, is usually required to determine the type of mass.
- Calcifications are small calcium deposits located within the breast tissue that may or may not signify cancer, depending on their shape and appearance. If they look suspicious, a biopsy is usually recommended to check for cancer.
When possible, your physician will compare your current mammogram to your previous one/s to help detect any changes and whether there are new findings.
TYPES OF MAMMOGRAPHY MACHINES
There are two main types of mammography machines: screen-film (standard) and 3D digital.
A standard mammography machine is equipped with two plates that compress or flatten the breast to spread the tissue apart, providing a clear picture of the breast tissue.
A 3D mammogram is similar to 2D mammogram procedure wise, but it takes a series of images of the breast tissue, making it particularly effective for examining dense breast tissue, for which cancer detection can be challenging.
3D mammography comprises a short X-ray sweep around the compressed breast using only nine low-dose exposures. The technique works to separate the tissues and reduce the overlapping of structures, which can occur with standard 2D mammography. 3D mammography allows for the accurate detection of breast cancer—up to three years before the development of symptoms (e.g., lump).
WHEN DO I NEED A MAMMOGRAM?
There are guidelines in place for women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends:
- Women aged 40 to 44 can start annual mammograms, if they want to.
- Women aged 45 to 54 should have an annual mammogram.
- Women 55 and older can choose to have an annual mammogram or have one every two years, depending on personal preferences and other factors.
- Screening should continue for as long as a woman is in good health and likely to live 10+ years.
Women who have strong risk factors for breast cancer, including those who have a parent, sibling, or child with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, should get an annual mammogram and MRI, starting at age 30.
MAMMOGRAM AND BREAST CARE SERVICES IN WOOSTER, OHIO
At the Women’s Specialty Center here at Wooster Community Hospital, we provide state-of-art and comprehensive healthcare services—including 3D mammography, breast biopsy, and breast ultrasound—as part of our commitment to helping promote and protect the health and well-being of the women in Wooster and beyond.