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Diagnostic Mammography

What is the difference between a mammogram that gives a diagnosis and one that just checks for cancer?

A mammogram is a type of breast x-ray. Diagnostic mammograms are used when a suspicious result from a screening mammogram or signs of breast cancer tell the doctor to check the tissue. Screening mammograms are used to find breast cancer in women who don't have any obvious symptoms

Some of these signs could be:

  • A lump

  • Sore breasts

  • Nipple discharge

  • Skin getting thicker on the breasts

  • Changes in how big or round the breasts are

A diagnostic mammogram can help figure out if these signs could be signs of cancer. Diagnostic mammograms use special techniques to take a more detailed x-ray of the breast than screening mammograms. They are also used in special cases, like when a person has breast implants.

How Does a Diagnostic Mammogram Work?

If your doctor orders a diagnostic mammogram, you should know that it will take longer than a regular screening mammogram because more x-rays will be taken to see the breast from different angles. The radiologist giving the test may also zoom in on a certain part of the breast where there may be something wrong. This will help your doctor get a clearer picture of the tissue and make a more accurate diagnosis.

Mammograms can find tumors too small to feel and may also find ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). These are abnormal cells that are in the lining of a breast duct. In some women, these cells can turn into invasive cancer.

These strange cells don't look at all like a mass. They look more like tiny grains of sand, which are called microcalcifications. If these microcalcifications are close to each other or in a row, this could be a sign that they are DCIS. Not all cases of DCIS become invasive cancer. Studies are being done right now to help doctors figure out what treatment is best for a woman who has DCIS inside the duct of her breast.

How Well do Mammograms Find Tumors that Could be Cancer?

The ability of a mammogram to find breast cancer may depend on the size of the tumor, the density of the breast tissue, and the skill of the radiologist who gives and looks at the mammogram. Mammograms are less likely to find breast tumors in women under 50 than in women over 50. This could be because breast tissue in younger women is more dense and shows up white on a mammogram. On a mammogram, a tumor looks white, which makes it hard to find.

In the 10 years since the first mammogram, technology has come a long way. Today, the best thing to do is get a 3D mammogram, which is also called tomosynthesis. This kind of modern mammogram machine is 28% better at finding breast cancer than older X-ray analog mammograms.

You can call ahead to find out if our mammography center does 3D mammography. You could also ask if the radiologist is an expert in breast imaging. This also helps make sure that your mammogram is correct.

If you've had mammograms done at a different place, have them sent to the new place you're going to or pick them up yourself and take them there. The radiologist should always compare the most recent mammogram to the ones that came before.

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