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Your doctor uses two important screening tools to monitor your breasts for cancer: in-office breast exams and mammography, a type of imaging. Mammograms work by using low-energy x-rays to examine your breasts for changes.

These tools work together to effectively screen for breast cancer and other abnormalities. Mammograms can detect breast lumps that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. This is important because lumps are easiest to treat when they’re diagnosed early.

How Does a Mammogram Work?

Mammograms can reveal abnormal tissues inside the breast.

A mammographer will use a special x-ray machine for your mammogram. The dose of radiation from a mammogram is lower than other types of x-rays.

The mammographer will compress your breast between two plates that flatten and spread your breast tissue apart. This compression allows for better visibility on the mammogram. Many may find this pressure uncomfortable, but each x-ray lasts for only a few seconds.

The standard screening mammogram only requires two images of each breast.

If your mammogram shows possible abnormalities, a radiologist will give a report describing the area of concern along with any recommended additional imaging.

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Screening Mammograms vs. Diagnostic Mammograms

Your doctor will order screening mammograms for you at regular intervals. These tests are ordered when there are no breast cancer symptoms.

The goal of a screening mammogram is to make sure you don’t have any signs of breast cancer. This includes areas of calcium deposits in the breast known as calcifications. These deposits may suggest precancerous breast changes.

Screening mammograms can also rule out tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel.

If your screening mammogram is normal, you will usually receive your results in several days via U.S. mail. You will also receive results through a patient portal like MyUPMC.

If your screening mammogram result is abnormal, you will receive a phone call to schedule a diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms require additional views of each breast.

Other possible reasons why you might need a diagnostic mammogram include:

  • A breast lump.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Nipple inversion.
  • Change in skin color or texture.
  • Change in size or shape of breast.

How Long Does a Mammogram Take?

For a screening mammogram, you can typically expect 2 or 3 x-rays of each breast. The total visit should take about 30 minutes. This includes time to complete a breast health questionnaire and to change into and out of a hospital gown.

For a diagnostic mammogram, allow 2 to 3 hours for the visit. The process takes extra time because the mammographer will take more images of your breast. The technologist will pay special attention to the area of concern your screening mammogram identified.

The radiologist will interpret the images while you wait. You will learn your exam results before you leave. If the diagnostic test reinforces abnormal findings, the radiologist may recommend a breast biopsy or other testing.

Sources

American Cancer Society. Mammogram Basics. Link

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.

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UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.